Patrick Modiano, who many in France consider the greatest living French author, has won the Nobel Prize in Literature for his works focusing on the era of Nazi Germany’s occupation of France. He was born shortly after the occupation ended. Still, despite not having been born yet, the events of that time period had an obvious and profound impact on his life.
Perhaps that is understandable, since Patrick Modiano is himself Jewish, as was his father. His mother, however, was Flemish, and was not Jewish. Against all odds, his father and mother not only managed to survive the anti-Semitic campaigns of that age, but they met and had a romantic relationship during the occupation. They had a son together – Patrick, the eventual Nobel Prize winner, and the impact of the momentous events just before his birth haunted him, providing the fodder that ignited his writing career.
The awarding of the Nobel Prize came as a surprise to Modiano. He found out about it while on a walk in the Left Bank of his native Paris, when his daughter called him to inform him of the news. He said that he felt it was all happening to someone else, and was curious to know why the committee had chosen him.
Patrick Modiano has tended to focus on the impact of the occupation of France by Nazi Germany during World War II in his writings. His books have garnered considerable attention, and received notable distinctions around the world. His most famous novel is probably La Place de l’Étoile, his first novel published in 1968, which was recognized by many in Germany as an important book in the post-Holocaust genre. He and his over 40 works are not very well known in English-speaking countries, because few of them have been translated into English, although that may soon change. However, his writing style, which is in French, tends to have a certain poetic feel to them that is often lost in translation.
Still, it did not take long for the quality of his works to receive attention. It started in his native France first, but his reputation continued to grow. In time, his works began to be recognized by many around the world. Patrick Modiano’s name had been on the list of possible candidates for the prestigious Nobel Prize for Literature, according to his German publisher at Hanser publishing house, Jo Lendle.
Peter Englund, the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, suggested that Patrick Modaino is one of the greatest writers of the 21st century. He also pointed out that all of Modiano’s books are related to one another, which is a relatively rare and notable feat among writers. Modaino himself quipped that he felt he had been working on essentially the same book for nearly half a century now. With each book, he feels that he might have finally put all of these questions to rest. In time, however, he fixates on details, and begins to explore many of these same questions all over again.
Patrick Modiano’s fixation on the Nazi occupation has earned him the prestigious Nobel Prize. His works have reflected, among other things, on time, guilt, memory, and the loss of identity during the difficult time of the occupation and the Holocaust. In the process of writing these works, Modiano himself has earned a strong identity in his own right.
By Charles Bordeau