The Nobel Prize Winner For Literature

2014 - Patrick Modiano

Born: 30 July 1945, Paris, France

Residence at the time of the award: France

Prize motivation: "for the art of memory with which he has evoked the most
ungraspable human destinies and uncovered the life-world of the occupation"

Prize share: 1/1

Books Written By Patrick Modiano

About Patrick Modiano

The Swedish committee praised the 69-year-old French writer for "the art of memory with which he has evoked the most ungraspable human destinies and uncovered the life-world of the occupation."

Peter Englund, the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, recommended that readers unfamiliar with Modiano's work begin with "Missing Person" ("Rue des boutiques obscures"), a novel from 1978 that describes a man who lost his identity during the Paris Occupation. "It's a fun book," Englund said. "He's playing with the genre."

"His books are always variations of the same theme," Englund said, "about memory, about loss, about identity, about seeking. I don't think he's difficult to read. You can read him easily, one of his books in the afternoon, have dinner, and read another in the evening." Modiano, who lives in Paris, has previously won the Grand prix du roman de l'Académie française and the Prix Goncourt.

Although he has published more than 20 books, including children's books, few of them are available in translation in the United States. "He's a well known name in France — not anywhere else," Englund said.

(Thursday morning at 9:00 a.m., "Missing Person" was No. 76,199 on Amazon. By 4:30 p.m., it was No. 6.)

Akane Kawakami, a professor of French literature at Birkbeck, University of London, said, "Modiano's novels often read like detective novels in which the detective is inept, awkward or compromised, a hapless but likable narrator who ends up uncovering — if not solving — a mystery with its roots in the 'annees noires' of the Occupation. This is a period with which he seems obsessed, although he was born several months after the end of the war in 1945."

"Missing Person" is published in the United States by a small indie press owned by David R. Godine. This morning, Godine missed the Nobel announcement because he was in Dublin, N.H., staking his dahlias in the garden. Reached by phone, he exclaimed, "This means we'll be ahead this year!"


Missing Person - Patrick Modiano

By Ronald Haak

MISSING PERSON is on my short list of the very finest fiction since 1945. The protagonist resembles someone benumbed by a stun gernade passively operating at the lowest level of social adaptation. In episode after episode, the story is lifted to the highest levels of art, the midnight telephone scene with the "blue rider" being a memorable instance of the writer's divine inspiration.

It's magnificent BECAUSE of its vagueness. It's essential that the protagonist wander around in a daze to convey a Europe bereft of reference points, orientation and a sense of confident purpose.

"Mistah Kurz, he dead!" Conrad, Heart of Darkness.

"The empires of our time were shortlived, but they have altered the world forever. Their passing away is their least significant feature." Naipaul. Heaped upon this lost purpose is the contribution of a subsequent interventionist: "If we fail, we will drag half the world down with us into the same abyss." Hitler. MISSING PERSON illuminates European consciousness numbed and stupified by the fallout and consequences of these 3 historical developments. This novel is a masterpiece.


Missing Person - Patrick Modiano

By Claude Nougat

I read this book on my Kindle in the French version (French is my mother tongue) as I bought it for my 100 year old mother who still reads one novel a week on her Kindle. She wanted to read this book as soon as she heard he had won the Nobel, this is a book that came out in 1978, the year Patrick Modiano won the Goncourt, a prestigious French prize. Before bringing it over to her, I read it, immediately taken in by the opening lines, unable to put it down. As I am now writing this critique, I just learned from an article in the Washington Post, that "Missing Person" is the book Peter Englund, a historian and the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, recommends to readers unfamiliar with Patrick Modiano. "It's a fun book," Englund said. "He's playing with the genre." And the genre he is playing with is mysteries. A detective, suffering from amnesia, sets out to recover his identity, following a variety of strange leads.

I'd like to recall here a very astute comment made sometime back by Anne Korkokeakivi, writing for THE MILLIONS, where she noted that French novels tend to be "... dark, searching, philosophical, autobiographical, self-reflective, and/or poetic (without being overwritten)."

Patrick Modiano's "Missing Person" precisely fits this description. It is all these things, dark, searching, self-reflective and yes, poetic. Consider the first lines: "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." Amazing, isn't it? The opening sentence is just three words, but how they resound. I am nothing. That is of course the whole theme of the book. What comes next is a poetic evocation of someone barely there, uncertainly watching the rain. And the last part of the sentence immediately makes you want to know who is this Hutte - someone with a strange name if there ever was one.

Yes, that is how a master storyteller starts a novel, and I guarantee that you will be turning the pages as fast as I did. And you will be wondering as the main character follows clues that turn out to be non-clues, and you will find yourself perplexed as he attempts to start conversations with people who take him for...who? Really him or someone else? This is done very subtly, especially at the level of dialogues, the kind one carries on with people one barely knows. But can one ever really know the other and oneself? So yes, the book is presented as a mystery, but the mystery is the main character...And bottom line, our own selves, each and everyone of us, how sure are you of who you really are...

So how good is Patrick Modiano? Very good, five stars, I highly recommend it. And I think you'll be happily surprised what a short read it is too, featherweight, a little over 200 pages. A small perfection...