Picks and Pans Review: King Solomon

updated 08/15/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/15/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Romain Gary

Gary, famous author of Roots of Heaven and more than a dozen other novels, and ex-husband of the late Jean Seberg, killed himself in 1980. This curious last novel was published in France under the name of Émile Ajar, a pseudonym Gary had been using since the early '70s because, he said, "I was tired of being nothing but myself." He also wanted to play a hoax on the Parisian critics, of whom he had a low opinion. The King Solomon of the title is 84; from his Paris apartment he runs an organization of volunteers answering phone calls from the anguished, the lonely and mostly the neglected old. He then engages a young taxi driver to run little errands of kindness because he sympathizes with Solomon's "polite way of criticizing the heavens and giving them some cause for remorse." The novel is loaded with eccentric characters and nostalgia for prewar songs and entertainers, old movies and sentimental loves. There is a quaint charm to the book, thanks in large part to such nice touches as the narrator observing, "She was arranging the flowers, very carefully. I don't know why but it made me think of a mother doing her children's hair." (Harper & Row, $12.95)

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