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Henri Troyat, 95; Russian refugee became a leading French writer

March 07, 2007|From the Associated Press

Henri Troyat, who fled Russia's revolution as a child and went on to become one of France's most prolific, popular and respected authors, has died, the Academie Francaise said Monday. He was 95.

Troyat died Friday in Paris, the Academie Francaise said. The cause and exact place of death were not reported.

Troyat wrote more than 100 works, including novels, biographies and plays. Many of his biographies focused on major Russian figures, including Leo Tolstoy, Catherine the Great and Aleksander Pushkin. Troyat's fictional tales often were involved, epic sagas that drew comparisons to the novels of the 19th century. His works have been translated into English, Spanish, Hebrew and Chinese.

His lost Russia was a continuing source of fascination and inspiration throughout his career.

"Thanks to him, the Russian novel has become a bit French," French Culture Minister Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres said. President Jacques Chirac called Troyat a "giant of French letters."

Troyat was inducted into the prestigious Academie Francaise in 1959, making him the most long-standing member of the group of 40 so-called "immortals" who safeguard the French language.

"He was a born teller of stories, both true and invented," Maurice Druon, another academy member, wrote in Le Figaro newspaper. "That was what he lived and breathed for. A day without writing seemed like a sin to him."

Troyat was born Lev Tarassov in Moscow in 1911. His family lost everything they had when they fled Russia during the 1917 Revolution. They wandered for many months, with stops including Istanbul and Venice, before settling in Paris in 1920.

Troyat never returned to his native land, even after the fall of the Soviet Union, saying he wanted to keep alive the imaginary Russia he created out of childhood memories and dreams.

"The snow is cleaner in my dreams," he once said.

Polls often ranked Troyat as the favorite writer of the French. He also won France's highest Legion of Honor ranking, the Grand Croix or Grand Cross. But Troyat said he cared little for glory.

"Success means nothing," he once said, according to Le Figaro. "I know what I'm talking about; at the very beginning of my life, I saw my parents lose everything in a reversal of fortune, and I kept that lesson in mind."

Troyat studied law as a young man, but he won early renown as a writer with the publication of his first novel, "Faux Jour" (False Light), when he was completing his mandatory French military service.

His fifth novel, "L'Araigne" (The Spider), published when he was 27, won France's top literary prize, the Prix Goncourt. Many of Troyat's books were set in Russia; others were portraits of French families. He also wrote biographies of French writers, including Emile Zola, Honore de Balzac and Gustav Flaubert.

Troyat remained prolific in his later years, publishing his final novel, "La Traque" (The Hunt), last year, when he was 94. Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin said Troyat's works "fascinated thousands of readers for 70 years, and will continue to fascinate them."

Troyat's survivors include two children. A funeral is scheduled for Friday in Paris.

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