Obituary Note: Dominique Lapierre

Dominique Lapierre, "a footloose French journalist who documented beauty, hope and peace amid war, poverty and disease in a long series of popular books, including Is Paris Burning? (1964) and City of Joy (1985)," died December 2, the New York Times reported. He was 91. 

Lapierre had written several well-received travel books when he and the American journalist Larry Collins published Is Paris Burning?, about the liberation of Paris in 1944, which eventually sold 20 million copies in more than a dozen languages. A film version, co-written by Gore Vidal and Francis Ford Coppola and released in 1966, featured an cast that included Jean-Paul Belmondo, Orson Welles, Anthony Perkins and Gert Fröbe.

Lapierre and Collins subsequently co-wrote a number of successful nonfiction books, including ...Or I'll Dress You in Mourning (1968) and O Jerusalem! (1972), as well as Freedom at Midnight (1975), which required Lapierre "to spend long stretches traveling around India. Along the way he met Mother Teresa, and through her began to think of what to do with the material profits from his literary success," the Times wrote. In 1981, he and his second wife, also named Dominique, returned to India as humanitarians. They lived for two years in a slum in Kolkata, in a four-by-six room without running water.

Lapierre wrote frequent dispatches from Kolkata and used his extensive reporting to write City of Joy, another bestseller that was adapted into a 1992 movie. The Times noted that "the Indian government committed billions to bring running water and other services to Kolkata's slums, but the light the book cast on the city also attracted thousands of international tourists to see the poverty for themselves." Lapierre promised to give half his royalties from the book to improve public health in the city's slums, and created a nonprofit to direct his efforts. In addition, within a year of the book's publication he had received more than 40,000 letters from readers seeking to help. 

When he was 17, Lapierre worked his way across the Atlantic aboard a ship, arriving in the United States with $30. He spent several months touring North America, and his notes became the basis for his first book, Un Dollar les Mille Kilomètres (A Dollar for a Thousand Kilometers), published in France in 1950. He and his first wife, Aliette Spitzer, spent their honeymoon circumnavigating the globe, which he chronicled in A Honeymoon Round the World (1953). A 1956 trip through the Soviet Union resulted in Once Upon a Time in the Soviet Union (2005). 

Before becoming a journalist, Lapierre served as a conscript in the French Army. He was stationed at NATO headquarters, where he met Collins, who was serving in the U.S. Army. They reconnected in the early 1960s, in Paris, where they were both reporters, and decided to try writing a book together--Is Paris Burning?

His other books include Beyond Love (1990); A Thousand Suns (1999); and Five Past Midnight in Bhopal (2001). "Despite his often grim subjects, he insisted that his later work was a search for the good in life, even at its darkest moments," the Times noted, adding that he told Vanity Fair in 1991: "I decided I was going to tell positive stories, about those on this earth who do things for others, who, confronted by something terrible, are really models of humanity."

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