Dominique Lapierre, French author and journalist, dies at 91

FILE - French writer and activist Dominique Lapierre holds a copy of his book on the Bhopal gas tragedy, in Bhopal, India, Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2009. Dominique Lapierre, a French writer and author, celebrated for his novels about Paris's struggle during World War Two and depicting life in a Calcutta slum, has died at 91. (AP Photo/Altaf Qadri, File) (Altaf Qadri, AP2009)

NICE – French writer Dominique Lapierre, who was celebrated for his historical work on the World War II struggle to liberate Paris and a novel depicting a life of hardship in a Kolkata slum in India, has died. He was 91.

Lapierre died Friday, a local newspaper in southern France reported Monday, citing an interview with the author’s wife, Dominique Conchon-Lapierre.

She told the Var Matin newspaper that Lapierre died “of old age” and that she was “at peace because (her husband) is no longer suffering.”

French Culture Minister Rima Abdul Malak praised Lapierre as an author and journalist whose travels around the world - from Mexico to India, New York City to Jerusalem – made him an “eyewitness of the 20th century” and enriched his novels with facts.

"We have lost a great writer, who was generous in his texts and was generous in his life," Abdul Malak said in a statement.

In 1964, Lapierre drew on archived material to co-author with American writer Larry Collins a recounting of the liberation of the French capital in August 1944. The book — “Is Paris Burning?” — was made into a movie by French filmmaker Rene Clement. Gore Vidal and Francis Ford Coppola were listed among a group of screenplay writers.

Lapierre was born in 1931 in the western French city of Chatelaillon to a diplomat father and a mother who had worked as a journalist. In the 1950s, Lapierre worked as a journalist and a foreign correspondent for Paris-Match. He lived most of his life in the French Riviera town of Ramatuelle with Conchon-Lapierre, his wife of 56 years.

Lapierre had a special bond with India and spent a lot of time in Kolkata, a city that was nicknamed “The City of Joy” after his 1985 novel with that title. The book, which chronicled the life of a rickshaw puller in a Kolkata slum, was adapted by Roland Joffé into a 1992 film.

He also donated generously to several charities engaged in humanitarian work in Kolkata.

Two of his other books —“Freedom at Midnight” and “Five Past Midnight in Bhopal: The Epic Story of the World’s Deadliest Industrial Disaster” — were histories of events in India. Lapierre was awarded the Padma Bhushan, India’s third-highest civilian award, in 2008.