Dominique Lapierre, writer of best-selling historic narratives, dies at 91

Dominique Lapierre, a globe-trotting French writer who used intimate tales of struggles and triumphs for best-selling historic narratives such because the 1944 liberation of France’s capital in “Is Paris Burning?” and a 1984 chemical leak catastrophe in India with “5 Previous Midnight in Bhopal,” died Dec. 4 at age 91.

His spouse, Dominique Conchon-Lapierre, confirmed Mr. Lapierre’s loss of life in an interview with the Var-Matin newspaper on the French Riviera. They’d lived for many years in Ramatuelle, France, on the Mediterranean coast. No trigger was given.

His books, mixing journalism and historic reconstructions, offered greater than 50 million copies worldwide. They introduced Mr. Lapierre explicit acclaim in India for advanced portrayals of slum life in “Metropolis of Pleasure” (1985) in addition to his account of the Bhopal catastrophe, which was blamed for greater than 15,000 deaths and left 500,000 individuals stricken with extreme or persistent well being issues.

He thought of himself a historian with a aptitude for vivid journalistic storytelling. “Is historical past a bit of chilly cake that nobody can digest,” Mr. Lapierre instructed India At present, “or is historical past a reenactment of what truly occurred with all of the feelings, smells, colours, impressions of occasions?”

He had a precocious literary begin, with the publication in 1950 of “Un Greenback les Mille Kilomètres” (“A Greenback for One Thousand Kilometers”), an account of touring in america. After a stint within the French army, he landed a job on the journal Paris Match, the place he lined the Korean Struggle after which was a particular author and editor based mostly in Paris.

Mr. Lapierre’s work was infused closely with a correspondent’s instincts for storytelling: richly reported private tales and one eye on particulars — comparable to how writer Ernest Hemingway arrange store in Paris after arriving with U.S. forces in 1944. Hemingway shortly took command of the bar on the “honeysuckle-covered” Hôtel du Grand Veneur, Mr. Lapierre wrote in “Is Paris Burning?” (1964) with co-author Larry Collins, of their account of the Nazi occupation of Paris and the Allied push into town.

“Within the bar, [Hemingway] had put in a case of hand grenades, a carbine, a bottle of the grateful proprietor’s finest cognac and a prewar Michelin highway map,” Mr. Lapierre and Collins wrote within the e book, which was made into an all-star 1966 film by French filmmaker René Clément.

However Mr. Lapierre typically mentioned he most well-liked on-the-scene reporting somewhat than trying again as a historian. In his 1991 e book on the AIDS disaster, “Past Love,” Mr. Lapierre spent months with individuals bothered by the illness and adopted scientists and well being groups.

For “5 Previous Midnight in Bhopal,” written with Javier Moro and first printed in French in 1997, Mr. Lapierre spent three years observing the lives of households residing close to the Union Carbide plant, the place a December 1984 leak of a extremely poisonous fuel used for pesticides, methyl isocyanate, turned one of many world’s most threatening industrial disasters.

The e book, launched in English in 2001, doesn’t discover the chemical catastrophe till the final chapter. The tales from the shantytowns are already poignant of their desperation. “The consequence reads like a thriller, albeit one whose terrifying consequence is understood from the outset,” journalist Birte Twisselmann wrote in an essay for the medical commerce journal BMJ.

Mr. Lapierre’s matters ranged far, and included exploring South Africa’s historical past of apartheid in “A Rainbow within the Evening” (2008) and the Israel-Palestinian battle in “O Jerusalem!” (1971) with Collins as co-author. His skilled and private pursuits, nevertheless, have been most carefully bonded with India. “A love story,” he as soon as known as his connections to the nation.

Mr. Lapierre and his spouse funded humanitarian initiatives, together with houses for individuals with leprosy and clinics in India’s West Bengal area and round Bhopal.

His 1975 e book “Freedom at Midnight” (with Collins as co-author) revisited the 1947 partition of the subcontinent after British rule. One other main work got here from practically three years residing for varied stretches in Anand Nagar, or “the Metropolis of Pleasure,” a teeming slum within the coronary heart of Kolkata (then broadly often called Calcutta).

“The Metropolis of Pleasure” (1985) vividly chronicles the grinding poverty and endless hardships in a slum whose incongruous identify was coined by jute makers looking for to draw employees. But Mr. Lapierre discovered inspiration, too, within the generosity amid the squalor, comparable to households taking in orphans or tending to these with tuberculosis, dysentery and different illnesses.

The Washington Submit’s then New Delhi-based correspondent Elisabeth Bumiller wrote on the time that Mr. Lapierre “generally over-romanticizes the battle of the poor” and presumably took broad liberties in translated feedback. “It’s actually uncommon to listen to somebody who buys blood from the poor of Calcutta exclaim, ‘Holy mackerel!’” she wrote.

However Bumiller additionally gave Mr. Lapierre excessive marks for humanity and empathy.

“‘The Metropolis of Pleasure’ is stuffed with primary truths,” she wrote. “A few of its moments could stick with a reader endlessly. Who can overlook the dying rickshaw puller promoting his bones to a person who makes cash from exporting skeletons, or the poor of Calcutta washing the physique of a buddy, and weeping throughout the riverbank cremation ceremony?”

Mr. Lapierre pledged to assist help teams in Kolkata with half his royalties from the e book, which was made right into a 1992 film starring Patrick Swayze. Mr. Lapierre mentioned he carried a thumb-bell utilized by a rickshaw puller to remind him of the slum — however after a number of weeks sleeping on a dust flooring within the house of a Polish priest, he mentioned he would test right into a five-star resort.

“Three days of bubble baths,” he instructed the Related Press in 1985, “and a style of scotch.”

Dominique Lapierre was born July 30, 1931, in Châtelaillon-Plage, France, on the Bay of Biscay, right into a household that kindled his lifelong curiosity in journey and writing. His mom was a journalist, and his father was a French diplomat who introduced Mr. Lapierre to New Orleans as a teen throughout a posting as consul basic.

In Louisiana, Mr. Lapierre attended faculty and developed a love for automobiles and the open highway. He later hitchhiked and traveled throughout america — adventures he included into his first e book when he was 19.

Mr. Lapierre graduated in 1952 from Lafayette School in Easton, Pa., and purchased a 1937 Chrysler convertible for $30. He and his first spouse, Aliette Spitzer, took a highway journey honeymoon, driving the automotive to Mexico after which Los Angeles, the place they gained $300 on a radio recreation present once they have been nearly out of cash.

Mr. Lapierre offered the Chrysler, they usually booked passage on a ship to Japan, and finally labored their method throughout Asia and the Center East. The travels have been was his second e book, “Honeymoon Across the World,” first printed in French in 1953 and English in 1957.

Mr. Lapierre was conscripted into the French military, serving as an interpreter with Allied forces in Belgium. There, he met Collins, an American corporal, who took a job with the United Press information company in Paris after his discharge. Mr. Lapierre was with Paris Match. They determined to attempt their hand at one thing greater — a e book in regards to the liberation of Paris.

Its business success led them to the subsequent challenge, “O Jerusalem!” in regards to the delivery of the state of Israel, which was tailored right into a 2006 movie. In 1980, they collaborated on a novel, “The Fifth Horseman,” a couple of Libyan terrorist plotting to detonate a hydrogen bomb in New York. (Collins died in 2005.)

Mr. Lapierre married Conchon-Lapierre in 1980. Along with his spouse, survivors embody a daughter, Alexandra, from his first marriage. Full data on survivors was not instantly out there.

Mr. Lapierre as soon as mentioned his curiosity was so expansive that he would wish “10 incarnations” of life to completely discover the world.

“I like the concept that the world by no means stops,” he mentioned, “that you’re by no means bored.”

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