Short summary - The Roots of Heaven - Romain Gary

French literature summaries - 2021

Short summary - The Roots of Heaven
Romain Gary

Mid 1950s The novel begins with a meeting between Father Tassin, a seventy-year-old member of the Jesuit order, and Saint-Denis, director of a large state reserve in French Equatorial Africa. Father Tassin is a scientist in Africa who tests his paleontological hypotheses and has a reputation among missionaries to be more concerned with the science of human origins than saving the soul. Saint Denis is one of those African-loving colonial officials who, having worked for a long time as an administrator in the outback, did a lot to alleviate the plight of the local population. However, his long life experience made him a pessimist, and he does not believe in the ability of state bodies to do anything radical in order to protect people and nature from the onset of technology. Saint Denis does not like civilization, he is obsessed with the idea of saving black Africans from the materialistic West, helping them preserve their tribal traditions and beliefs, preventing Africans from following in the footsteps of Europeans and Americans. Admiring African rites, he is friends with local sorcerers, with one of whom he even has an agreement that he will turn him after death into an African tree. Earlier, he even regretted that he was not born with black skin, because he considered Africans to be children of nature. But now he regretfully states that they are moving further and further away from nature, because local revolutionaries are poisoning Africa with Western poisons and because only words of hatred remain on the slogans of black liberators.
Father Tassin made a very long and difficult journey for him on horseback to listen to Saint-Denis's story about Morel and everything connected with him. Morel is the main character in the novel. A romantic and idealist, he tries to protect from extermination elephants, mercilessly exterminated by white hunters for tusks and black local population for meat. Morel once managed to survive in a German concentration camp thanks to the fact that he and his comrades thought about these strong and free animals walking across the endless expanses of Africa. He tries to save them partly out of gratitude, but mainly because he connects with the salvation of animals also the salvation of the renewed humanity, revived thanks to them. He dreams of something like a historical reserve, similar to reserves in Africa, where hunting is prohibited. In this reserve, all the spiritual values of mankind must be preserved in order to pass on to their great-grandchildren.
Morel's main weapons are appeals and manifestos, which he proposes to sign to everyone he meets on his way. There are not so many people willing to sign, but gradually a group of people sympathizing with him is formed around Morel. Some of them genuinely share his concerns. Such is, first of all, the Danish naturalist Per Quist, who began his struggle for the preservation of nature almost at the beginning of the century. Another reliable ally, or rather, ally, is the German woman Minna. Once in post-war Berlin, this beautiful girl made friends with a Soviet officer, who paid for this friendship either with freedom, or most likely with life. After which Minna, having lost interest in life, sank to its very bottom. The struggle for the preservation of the fauna has become for her and the struggle to regain human dignity. Another of Morel's sympathizers is the former American pilot Forsyth, who at one time fought in Korea and, being shot down, was forced, in order to escape, to participate in an operation developed by Chinese and North Korean propaganda bodies, the purpose of which was to convince world public opinion that that the American forces used bacteriological weapons. As a result, when he returned from captivity, life at home was impossible for him. He was expelled from the army in disgrace, and he, having left the United States illegally, went to Africa and took refuge in Chad, and there, recognizing the justice of Morel's actions, he became his ally.
Among Morel's opponents, one stands out first of all a certain Orsini, a hunter-athlete. In an effort to give a more vivid idea of this man, Saint-Denis resorts to an analogy. He tells about an American writer who, somehow drunk, explained to him that he would regularly visit Africa to shoot another batch of lions, elephants and rhinos there, he was forced by the fear of life, of death, of inevitable old age, of diseases. before impotence. When fear became unbearable, this writer tried to mentally identify him with a rhino or an elephant, with something that can be killed. After that, for six weeks of hunting, he seemed to undergo a course of treatment, which for six months relieved him of his schizophrenic obsession. Something similar happened with Orsini, whose whole life, according to Saint-Denis, was. a long rebellion against his own insignificance, which just made him kill strong and beautiful animals. Orsini, not without the courage of a petty mongrel, defended his own insignificance from a too high idea of a person in which he had no place. He killed elephants to cope with his own feelings of inferiority. Being a natural antagonist of Morel, he, in opposition to him, organizes a mass shooting of elephants and eventually dies a shameful death, trampled by elephants.
At a certain moment, Morel, seeing that his petitions in defense of animals did not help, that the colonial officials not only did not support him, but also put up all sorts of obstacles, decided to start independently punishing the most vicious animal exterminators, most of them wealthy planters and ivory traders. He and like-minded people set fire to their farms and warehouses with ivory. A few more people are adjoining him: some of them are not at odds with the law, and some dream of freeing Africa from colonial rule. Such is the brilliant leader of the liberation movement Waitari, a handsome black man who received an excellent education in Paris, who was at one time a member of the French parliament. He tries to use Morel for his own purposes, although in essence he is the same antagonist of Morel, like Orsini, the same as him, an enemy of African nature. The fact is that, ashamed of Africa's backwardness, he does not want to contribute to its progress by gradually improving living conditions; inspired by the example of the USSR, he is a supporter of the accelerated industrialization of the continent. He is ready to turn Africa into the same concentration camp that Stalin turned Russia into, in order to force compatriots to abandon ancient customs and force them to build roads, mines, dams. And for this, he is ready to destroy all African elephants. Laughing deep down at Morel's idealism, he cynically uses it, trying to pass off his struggle to save nature as a political struggle, and secretly gives his young followers the task of destroying the naive Frenchman so that he can be declared the first white who gave his life for African independence, and to create a legend useful for African nationalism. At the same time, he and his squad destroy a herd of elephants in order to sell the tusks and buy weapons with the proceeds. Of course, Vaitari's personal ambitions, associated with the inferiority complex inherent in the overwhelming majority of political figures, play a significant role here.
Ultimately, it turns out that in the fight against the idealist Morel, all forces united, either interested in the destruction of elephants, or simply indifferent to everything. At the end of the novel, those who were with Morel are arrested, and he himself leaves for the forest. Perhaps he died, but the author does not give up hope that Morel is alive and somewhere continues to fight.