Romain Gary wrote this book under the pseudonym Emile Ajar, and won the Prix Goncourt for the second time ! It is translated into English by Ralph Manheim as The Life Before Us ("Madame Rosa"). It must be very difficult to capture the flavour of the original French, and perhaps the translation is a little on the formal side, for the author's French style gives the feeling of a child speaking the story, and is full of deeply embedded language jokes.
But the setting of this story is quite stupefyingly sordid - a group of small children who are the offspring of prostitutes, looked after by a very large and ugly Jewess, herself a former prostitute, and a survivor of Auschwitz. You might be reluctant to read such a catalogue of horror with its cast of streetwalkers, pimps, transvestites, fire eaters and other lost souls, but the book is, above all, wonderfully funny, touching, amazing in its originality, and carries clear messages about the way we are prejudiced, about the role of doctors and the lives of unwanted immigrants. To read this book is to experience a different life with a vengeance, by means of a black humour which is as effective as it is brilliant.