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Patrick Modiano (b. 1945)


French novelist, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 2014 "for the art of memory with which he has evoked the most ungraspable human destinies ..." In his work, Patrick Modiano has mixed historical reality and fiction. A recurring subject in his early books is the period of the Nazi Occupation.

"I am nothing. Nothing but a pale shape, silhouetted that evening against the café terrace, waiting for the rain to stop; the shower had started when Hutte left me." (from Missing Person, 1978)

Patrick Modiano was born in Boulogne-Billancourt, a suburb of Paris. His father, Albert Modiano, was a businessman. During the dark years of the German occupation of  France, he was forced into black-market and possibly Gestapo-linked activities in order to survive as a Jew. He never spoke of his wartime activities. Modiano's Belgian-born mother Luisa Colpeyn Modiano (b. 1918) worked as a chorus girl, cinema translator and actress: she had roles in many TV series and acted in such films as Le cercle vicieux (1960, Vicious Circle) by Max Pécas, Bande à part (1964, Band of Outsiders) by Jean-Luc Godard, and La mort en sautoir (1980) by Pierre Goutas.

Modiano learned Flemish, his first language, from his grandparents, who brought him up. After unhappy years at a boarding school, he attended the prestigious Lycée Henri-IV in Paris, where his geometry teacher was the writer Raymond Queneau, a friend of his mother. Queneau encouraged Modiano in his literary pursuits and introduced him to artistic circles. Modiano started writing seriously in 1967. His first novel, La Place de l'Étoile, was published by Gallimard. It came out after the French student riots in May 1968, but had nothing to do with the current political crisis. The story consisted of fractured, hallucinatory memoirs of Raphaël  Schlemilovitch, a Jew, struggling to gain a sense of himself.

In a interview Modiano has said that the death of his brother Rudy in 1957 was the most traumatic event of his childhood and the most identifiable reason why he became a writer. From 1968 to 1982, he dedicated his books to Rudy. Modiano's father largely abandoned his family and died in the late 1970s. The "missing father" and a search for personal identity and have been central to Modiano's work. He also was neglected by his mother, who did not show much maternal affection toward her son. In De si braves garçons (1982) and La Petite Bijou (2001) Modiano portrayed negligent mothers. He once said, that he has felt as if he were writing the same book over and over again. Most likely, his father read La Place de l'Étoile. In the same year, when it was published, he disappeared. Nothing was heard of him until 1978.  

Many of Modiano's novels play with autobiographical truth and fictionalization of self. Les boulevards de ceinture (1972, Ring Roads), which won the French Academy's Grand Prix du Roman, told about a young Jewish boy, who searches for his missing father and discovers the criminal underworld in wartime Paris. The beginning of the novel leans on the nouveau roman and Alain Robbe-Grillet (1922-2008) by focusing on the description of physical objects.

Villa triste (1975) explored the difficulties of remembering. The unnamed narrator tries to recreate some fifteen years later a summer in a resort town near Lake Geneva, where he has escaped from the Algerian bombings in Paris. In 1976 Modiano published a book-length interview with Emmanuel Berl, a journalist, historian and essayist, and neighbor, in the Palais Royal, of Jean Cocteau and Colette. Livret de famille (1977) echoed the experiences of the writer's own life without being autobiographical. The narrator is anonymous. "One cannot presume to say," wrote Francis Steegmuller in his review, "that Patrick Modiano has deliberately set out to make himself, in his books, a man of mystery . . ."

With the film director Louis Malle Modiano wrote the screenplay for Lacombe Lucien (1974), about a young Frenchman, who joins the Gestapo and becomes the victiom of his own detachment and indiffence. This controversial film, which deconstructed the myths of the Occupation by portraying Lucien in a fundamentally sympathetic light, was accused of reactionary politics and aestetics.

Modiano established his literary reputation with his early novels. Published when the golden age of roman nouveau was over, they were seen as a sign of the future. Some critics have contrasted Modiano with another famous French writer of his generation, J.M.G. Le Clézio (b. 1940). They both have been awarded the Nobel Prize for literature, but while Le Clézio has been counted among the avant-garde writers due to his early experimentalist approach to novel, Modiano is thought to be more tradition-oriented due to his popularity.

Modiano's outstanding career as a writer has spanned over four decades. Ever since his breakthrough on the French literary scene Modiano has enjoyed success among both the public and the critics. Among his most discussed books in the 1990s was Dora Bruder (1997). More of a biography than a novel, it told about a Jewish girl, who was deported in 1942 from Paris to Auschwitz.

Although Modiano's work resist simple categorization, his name is generally associated with postmodernism. In spite of winning the major French literary prizes, honors, translations, and studies, Modiano has remained largely aloof from the public arena. However, he has appeared in 1982 on Bernard Pivot's talk show Apostrophes, made a cameo role in Raoul Ruiz's film Généalogie d'un crime (1997) as Catherine Deneuve's ex-husband Bob, and participated as a member of the jury at Cannes film festival in 2000. Nathalie Sarraute (1900-1999), who pioneered the New Novel movement, said in 1997 at the age of ninety-seven, that Modiano was one of the young writers whom she most admired. Modiano married in 1970 Dominique Zehrfuss, writer and illustrator; they had two daughters.

For further reading: World Authors 1975-1980, ed. by Vineta Colby (1985); Patrick Modiano: pièces d'identité by Colin Nettlebeck and Penelope Hueston (1986); 'Collaboration, Alienation, and the Crisis of Identity in the Film and Fiction of Patrick Modiano' by Richard J. Golsan, in Film and Literature: A Comparative Approach to Adaptation, ed. by Wendell Aycock and Michael Schoenecke (1988); Patrick Modiano, edited by Jules Bedner (1993); Patrick Modiano by Alan Morris (1996); Paradigms of Memory. The Occupation and Other Hi/stories in the Novels of Patrick Modiano, edited by Martine Guyot-Bender and William VanderWolk (1998); A Self-Conscious Art: Patrick Modiano's Postmodern Fictions by Akane Kawakami (2001); A Riffaterrean Reading of Patrick Modiano's La Place de L'étoile by Charles O'Keefe (2005); Patrick Modiano, edited by John E. Flower (2007) 

Selected works:

  • La place de l’étoile, 1968
  • La ronde de nuit, 1969
    - Night Rounds (translated by Patricia Wolf, 1971)
  • Les boulevards de ceinture, 1972
    - Ring Roads (translated by Caroline Hillier, 1974)
    - Kehäbulevardit (suom. Jorma Kapari, 1976)
  • Lacombe Lucien, 1974 (screenplay with Louis Malle)
    - Lacombe Lucien: The Complete Scenario of the Film (translated by Sabine Destrée, 1975)
    - Film: Lacombe Lucien (1974), dir. by Louis Malle, starring Pierre Blaise, Aurore Clément, Holger Löwenadler
  • Villa Triste, 1975
    - Villa Triste (translated by Caroline Hillier, 1977)
    - Villa Triste (suom. Jorma Kapari, 1977)
    - Film: Le parfum d'Yvonne (1994), dir. by Patrice Leconte, starring Jean-Pierre Marielle, Hippolyte Girardot, Sandra Extercatte
  • Emmanuel Berl: Interrogatoire, 1976
  • Livret de famille, 1977 
  • Rue des boutiques obscures, 1978
    - Missing Person (translated by Daniel Weissbort, 1980)
    - Hämärien puotien kuja (suom. Jorma Kapari, 1979)
  • Une jeunesse, 1981
    - Nuoruus (suom. Jorma Kapari, 1986)
    - Film: Une jeunesse (1983), dir. by Moshé Mizrahi, starring Ariane Lartéguy, Patrick Norbert, Jacques Dutronc
  • Memory Lane, 1981 
  • De si braves garçons, 1982
    - Film: Charell (2006), dir. by Mikhaël Hers, starring Jean-Michel Fête, Marc Barbé, Anicée Alvina
  • Poupée blonde de Pierre Michel Wals, 1983 
  • Quartier perdu, 1984
    - A Trace of Malice (translated by Anthea Bell, 1988)
    - Kadonnut kortteli (suom. Jorma Kapari, 1987)
  • Une aventure de Choura, 1986 
  • Dimanches d’août, 1986
    - Film: Te quiero (2001), dir. by Manuel Poirier, starring Philippe Bas, Marine Delterme, Patricia Farfan Villena
  • Une fiancée pour Choura, 1987 (with Dominique Zehrfuss)
  • Remise de peine, 1988
    - Catherine Certitude (translated by William Rodarmor, 2000)
  • Catherine Certitude, 1988 
  • Vestiaire de l’enfance, 1989 
  • Voyage de noces, 1990
    - Honeymoon (translated by Barbara Wright, 1992)
  • Paris tendresse, 1990 
  • Fleurs de ruine, 1991 
  • Un cirque passe, 1992
    - TV film: Des gens qui passent (2009), dir. by Alain Nahum, starring Laura Smet, Théo Frilet, Hippolyte Girardot
  • Chien de printemps, 1993
  • Du plus loin de l’oubli, 1995
    - Out of the Dark (translated by Jordan Stump, 1998)
  • Elle s’appelait Françoise, 1996 (with Catherine Deneuve) 
  • Dora Bruder, 1997
    - Dora Bruder (translated by Joanna Kilmartin, 1999) / The Search Warrant (translated by Joanna Kilmartin, 2000)
  • Aux jours anciens, 1998
  • Des inconnues, 1999
  • La Petite Bijou, 2001 
  • Éphéméride, 2001 
  • Accident nocturne, 2003
  • Dieu prend-il soin des boeufs?, 2003 
  • Un pedigree, 2005
  • 28 Paradis, 2005 (with Dominique Zehrfuss) 
  • Dans le café de la jeunesse perdue, 2007
  • L’horizon, 2010 
  • L’herbe des nuits, 2012 
  • 28 Paradis, 28 Enfers, 2012 (with Dominique Zehrfuss and Marie Modiano) 
  • Romans, 2013 
  • Pour que tu ne te perdes pas dans le quartier, 2014 
  • Suspended Sentences: Three Novellas, 2014 (Afterimage, Suspended Sentences, Flowers of Ruin; translated by Mark Polizzotti)

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