‘White Dog’ by Romain Gary – A Racist Dog

‘White Dog’ by Romain Gary (1970) – 279 pages    Grade: A-


9780226284309_p0_v1_s260x420With this story about a dog, Romain Gary has found a near ideal way to express his views of which there are many. First let me tell you about the dog.

One day the Gary family’s pet dog Sandy is followed home by another stray dog, a German Shepherd. All the Garys are quickly smitten by this new dog which is friendly to the entire family. However soon they realize that the dog has a problem. This dog was originally a police dog from the South in the United States and had been trained to ferociously attack any black person in sight. This racist dog would never suit Romain Gary and his actress wife Jean Seberg since they frequently host meetings of the Black Panthers and other social and racial justice groups at their home. So they take the dog to a kennel which employs a skilled dog trainer named Keys in order to change the dog’s offensive behavior. Keys happens to be black himself.

This all occurs in 1968, and ‘White Dog’ captures all of the wildness and radicalism of that time. Romain Gary brings an intellectual’s insight to the story, but he is no ordinary intellectual. He was one of the few original World War II aviators to survive the war and is a war hero. In France in the 1960s, Gary was considered an establishment rightist due to his high position as a diplomat in the DeGaulle government and his vehement anti-Communism. However in the United States he was considered a radical leftist for his belief in black-and-white racial justice. He had the good sense to understand that there isn’t much difference between Communist authorities imprisoning millions of their own Russian citizens and those United States ‘law and order’ politicians who work to imprison millions of their own black citizens.

Gary’s wife Jean Seberg was one of the top actresses in Hollywood and heavily involved in radical politics. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) under J. Edgar Hoover did everything possible to discredit her, even getting major gossip columnists to spread the false rumor that she was impregnated by a black man. When she miscarried, she had the premature baby buried in an open casket in her hometown of Marshalltown, Iowa so everyone could see that it was white.

Both Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated during the spring of 1968. In particular the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King was the murder of hope in the United States. ‘White Dog’ is an insider’s view of the radical movement in the United States at that time. Much of the book is taken up with his own skepticism and analysis about many of the radical ideas that were floating around at that time. Many of his views are sensible and quite brilliant. Here are just a few of Romain Gary’s insights in ‘White Dog’.

“If evil things were only done by evil men, the world would be an admirable place.”

“There are worse traps than trusting people.”

“I have a profound dislike for majorities. They always become crushing. A majority may sound like a democratic force, but there is usually more force than democracy.”

“Half the things that happen aren’t possible.”

Romain Gary and Jean Seberg

Romain Gary and Jean Seberg

Some of the views expressed in ‘White Dog’ were au courant at that time and now hopelessly out-of-date. Even when Romain Gary is wrong-headed in his opinions and views, he is nothing less than fascinating.

‘White Dog’ is fundamentally different from most writing today. It is filled with challenging and in some cases infuriating ideas. Today much is written to attract the most readers. It is well-written, tasteful, and guaranteed to please most everyone, but it doesn’t really hit you where it hurts. Not many books today are annoying and invigorating at the same time like ‘White Dog’.

For more, read Emma’s review of ‘White Dog’ at Books Around the Corner. She is the one who recommended I read this fine book.

14 responses to this post.

  1. […] Book World kann White Dog von Romain Gary […]


  2. Posted by kaggsysbookishramblings on March 22, 2015 at 12:46 PM

    Excellent review Tony – sounds a fascinating book!


  3. Hello,

    I’m really glad you enjoyed it (Grade A-, that’s a good one 🙂 )

    Does his analysis sound spot on to you? Since I’m not American, I’ve always wondered how an American would feel about what he wrote.

    I thought it was a fascinating book on a topic that’s not easy to tackle in a book.
    He was a humanist, deeply convinced that all men are created equal. And he hated political manipulation, whatever the side it came from.

    Now you’re ready to read Promise at Dawn.


    • Hi Emma,
      Although Romain Gary thought he would be accused of ‘laughing at liberals’ in White Dog, It seemed to me he was instead ‘laughing at radicals’. I was pretty skeptical of the radical movement at that time too, even though I was and still am a liberal. I find myself agreeing with him in his skepticism most of the time. I thought the dog was a perfect way to introduce the subject of racism in America where in the South they actually do train dogs to attack black people but not white people.
      Romain Gary seems to me one of a kind, an aviator and war hero, an intellectual, a novelist, a diplomat, even a screenwriter (The Longest Day). He must have been kind of a showboat too marrying 20 year-old actress Jean Seberg when he was 45.
      I see that ‘Promise at Dawn’ has its own entry on Wikipedia, so it must be one of his better novels.


  4. PS : I’ve added your post to my Reading Romain Gary page.


  5. Fascinating review, Tony! I’ve never read anything by Gary, but do want to, and am a fan of tragic dog stories, though this is obviously more than that. I am also a fan of Jean Seberg, who grew up in Marshalltown, IA. They shunned her after her movie career and poltical carrer, but ironically had a Jean Seberg film fest a few years ago.


    • Hi Kat,
      Yes, the lives of both Romain Gary and Jean Seberg are stranger than fiction. ‘White Dog’ is both a memoir and maybe a bit of fiction. It gives a pretty good picture of 1968 as I remember it. I was a junior undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison then which was a radical hotbed, although I stayed out of it.
      You would think that Marshaltown would be happy to be the home of a big-time Hollywood actress like Jean Seberg. With J. Edgar Hoover scheming against her, she didn’t have much of a chance. Tragic story.


  6. I do think this one sounds particularly interesting. I got interrupted in my last Romain read and had to abandon early through no fault of his. If I get along with Promise at Dawn though this will be my next, the links to US ’60s radicalism sound really interesting.


    • Hi Max,
      ‘Promise at Dawn’ would probably be the next Romain Gary I would read.
      As for 60s Radicalism, I was there on the UW-Madison campus as an undergraduate, and I know exactly what a wild and crazy time it was. ‘White Dog’ did bring it back to me.


  7. The book is guaranteed to please everyone?

    I would say the opposite is true. It’s written to piss every possible faction off–left, right, black, white, American, European–humans. All humans are indicted here. I suppose you could argue that if everybody is indicted, everybody is innocent, but the problem with that is that there are a few special individual in the book that Gary considers to be true examples of humanity–what humans are supposed to be–and that’s to remind us that we are what we are because we choose to be that way. He’s not exempting himself.

    Thing is, the specific factions he’s aiming at were of that era, so you and I can pretend we’re not the target. But we are anyway. The basic point is, we’re all racists in one way or another, and of course the dog isn’t–he doesn’t know what race is. He just knows he’s supposed to attack these specific people, because people he trusted told him to, made him believe they were a danger. “I’m a good dog. I did my job.” What destroys him is the realization that humans lie.

    It’s debatable whether the dog in the book ever existed at all, though he is the one thing Gary insists he’s being completely honest about (Gary tells us, in the context of the story that he’s telling, that he’s telling a story, and this is fiction, based on his life–but not when he’s talking about the dog–which is confusing, and it’s meant to be.)

    I appreciate the effort, but still looking for a reviewer who gets this book.

    I can’t think of a more relevant book for the era we’re in now.


    • Hi fredfitch,
      If you read my article carefully, you will see that I use the phrase “guaranteed to please everyone” only for most of what is written today contrasting it with ‘White Dog’. I thought it was great that ‘White Dog’ sometimes annoyed and infuriated and challenged which very few books do anymore.
      I like your point that we’re all racists, but the dog isn’t. The dog is trained by us to behave that way.
      I don’t like at all the way Romain Gary and Jean Seberg were hounded by the US authorities for their beliefs, I can see parallels to today when the old J. Edgar Hoover and Joe McCarthy white viciousness and meanness are coming back with a vengeance. It shows that the United States was never as good a country as it thought it was.


  8. […] from Tony’s Book World read White Dog and found it excellent. Another review for Promise at Dawn, this time by Grant at 1streading’s […]


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