The Life Before Us

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For the film see Madame Rosa
First edition (publ. Mercure de France)

The Life Before Us (1975; French: La vie devant soi) is a novel by French author Romain Gary who wrote it under the pseudonym of "Emile Ajar". It was originally published in English as Momo then re-published in 1986 as The Life Before Us. It won the Prix Goncourt prize in 1975.


Momo, a Muslim orphan boy who is about 10 years old, lives under the care of an old Jewish woman named Madame Rosa, who was a prisoner at Auschwitz and later became a prostitute in Paris. Momo's mother abandoned him with Madame Rosa, who is essentially a babysitter for the children of prostitutes. They live on the sixth floor of an apartment building in Belleville, a district of Paris. In their apartment building, Madam Rosa made a small hideout in a cellar, where she keeps artifacts of her Jewish heritage. The young boy tells the story of his life in the orphanage and of his relationship with Madame Rosa as she becomes increasingly sick, culminating with her death, after she had expressed her desire to not die in hospital on life support, saying that she does not want to be a vegetable being forced to live.


  • Momo, a young Muslim orphan
  • Madame Rosa, a babysitter for the children of prostitutes
  • Madame Lola, a transvestite prostitute and former boxing champion in Senegal
  • Monsieur Hamil, an old carpet salesman
  • Monsieur N'da Amédée
  • Doctor Katz, the local doctor


The book deals with several themes, including euthanasia, prostitution, the effects of the Holocaust, immigration and aging.


The novel was adapted for cinema by Moshé Mizrahi as Madame Rosa in 1977 and for television in 2010 by Myriam Boyer, who also plays Madame Rosa. In 1987, American director Harold Prince staged a short-lived musical version on Broadway under the title Roza with a libretto and lyrics by Julian More and music by Gilbert Becaud.

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