Thursday, October 9, 2014

Patrick Modiano, 2014 Nobel Laureate In Literature

 La persistance de ce qui reste dans nos âmes

Patrick Modiano, a publicity-shy French author whose roughly thirty novels (per Reuters)  explore "memory, oblivion, identity and guilt that often take place during the German occupation of World War Two" has been awarded the 2014 Nobel Prize for Literature.

Sweden's Academy declared Modiano "a Marcel Proust of our time... for the art of memory with which he has evoked the most ungraspable human destinies and uncovered the life-world of the occupation. ... he returns to generally the same topics again and again, simply because these topics cannot be exhausted".

Again per Reuters, Modiano said in a 2011 interview in France Today, "After each novel, I have the impression that I have cleared it all away. But I know I'll come back over and over again to tiny details, little things that are part of what I am.... In the end, we are all determined by the place and the time in which we were born."

It's difficult to experience the full impact of an author without reading them in their own language; if you think about it outside the context of "preparing a property (as publishers refer to literature) for sale", who is doing the translation and how well they understand in their bones both languages and both cultures becomes incredibly important.

As a Dog who reads, and does read Another Language (not French), I always wonder how many works of incredible ingenuity and imagination are out in the world -- and which I don't know about, because I don't read Urdu, or Turkish, or Japanese.

Fortunately for me, some of Modiano's works have been translated into English.  I can recommend Honeymoon; 'Suspended Sentences'; or Out Of The Dark, which not only involve questions of memory and human connections set in occupied France, but also use the Detective novel as a method of exploring them -- a bit like Marcel Proust and Graham Greene getting together for a drink and a chat.

Another author's works -- American, and a Francophile -- remind me a bit of Modiano because they deal with similar questions, and the Europe they're set in is close to war and occupation or already sliding into it. Given that, I've wondered occasionally whether he had read Modiano and if it influenced his work in any way.

You can find them through The Behemoth The Selling Pit The Soul Destroying Home Of The Demon that very big website where you can buy things, or -- my preference -- go to that very nice independent bookstore in your area and (if you can't find it on the shelf) order them.


  1. as someone who reads anglais seulement, i was disappointed to discover that my local public library system has nothing from this author in my own native tongue - although, surprisingly, it has something in korean -

    Un pedigree / Patrick Modiano.

    Han pam ui sago = Accident nocturne : P`at`urik Modiano changp`yon sosol / Patrick Modiano ; Kim Yun-jin omgim.

  2. on the other hand, their catalog lists 63 titles by alan furst, the other author you refer to