Minette has recently received a copy of Le Petit Nicolas by René Goscinny as reading material for her weekly French class. Le Petit Nicolas, a beloved classic illustrated by Sempé, narrates the everyday life of its eponymous character (a well-meaning little boy that gets carried away more often than not) in the first person in short, hilarious chapters. The remarkable achievement of the series is that it is just as funny and delectable for adults as it is for children. But there is more, so much more to Goscinny.
If you were born on this side of the Atlantic Ocean, his name probably does not ring a bell. Chances are, though, that you have encountered his most famous brain child: Astérix, the shrewd and resourceful Gaul taking on Julius Cesar’s Rome from his little Breton village.
In my native country, on the other hand, Goscinny is a flagship name. Everyone who has grown up in France since the 1960s has been on a sustained Goscinny diet. We are thankful for his many creations in collaboration with various illustrators. Along with Le Petit Nicolas, the comics series Astérix, Lucky Luke (set in America’s Wild West), and Les Dingodossiers (a collection of whimsical “reports” on improbable subjects) are my family’s favorites.
Goscinny’s productivity and versatility were simply astonishing. He was not only an incredibly prolific author, he also launched and ran the famous comics magazine Pilote, where he nurtured a whole generation a new talents. His life was full to the brim, and much too short. He died at 51 during a routine cardiac stress test .
Most of Goscinny’s characters are widely seen as quintessentially French, not least the iconic figure of Astérix. Few in France know of his own multicultural background. He was born in Paris to Jewish immigrants from Poland in 1926. He grew up in Buenos Aires, where his family moved when he was two and where he later attended the Lycée Français.
Following the premature death of his father, he emigrated to New York with his mother in 1945. He left to serve in the French Army, then went back to the United States. His subsequent American years were the toughest in his life, professionally and personally, but he finally found a job and started writing children’s books. He eventually moved to France in 1951 to head the Paris office of a press agency. The rest is (French pop culture) history.
I find it both intriguing and inspiring that someone whose work is recognized as eminently French grew up and came of age far from France. I wonder if something similar could ever become true for Minette, and in what particular circumstances…
Meanwhile, she’s enjoying every bit of the Goscinny books she can get hold of and she especially cherishes the complete edition of Les Dingodossiers my parents gave her last Christmas. This, I believe, is no minor part of her French heritage. Here is to another generation of Goscinny fandom in our family!