On Thursday, Oct. 9, it was announced that Patrick Modiano, a French author whose work has been translated into over 30 languages, has won the Nobel Prize in Literature for 2014. This particular prize is handed out, not in recognition of a single work, but for a lifetime of work, and includes a $1.1 million award.
Modiano first became recognized in the literary world after his novel La Place de l’Étoile was published when he was only 22. The title translates to “The Star’s Place” and refers to the shame inflicted on the Jewish people during World War II. It tells the story of a Jewish collaborator during the war.
Born to an Italian-Jewish father and a Belgian, actress mother, Modiano came into the world on July 30, 1945 in the Paris suburb of Boulogne. His parents met during the occupation of Paris, but his father had close ties to the Gestapo and was not required to wear a yellow star. Patrick’s childhood was marred by tragedy and a complicated relationship with his parents. He was the oldest of three boys and spent most of his school years attending boarding schools. He was close to his brother Rudy, who died in 1957 from leukemia at the age of 10.
Modiano has described his mother as cold and relayed a story by way of example that she had a lap dog that escaped her chilly demeanor by jumping out the window to its death. At the age of 17, he stopped speaking to his father and did not speak to him again for fifteen years until the older Modiano’s death. However, he devoted several books to his father. According to Modiano, during the Algerian War, he asked his father for some money to get by and his father responded by calling the police on his son. Still, his father’s approval mattered to him. When he learned that his father was not happy with La Place de l’Étoile, Patrick tried to purchase all of the available copies to remove it from the marketplace.
Long before he won his Nobel Prize for literature, Modiano dropped out of school to write. He has said that it was difficult with no diploma or definitive goals, but he did not think of doing anything else other than write. Although he was young at the time, he has said his memories dated back to “before I was born.”
This is not Modiano’s first award for his writing. He also won the French Academy’s Grand Prize for his novel Ring Roads in 1972. In 1978, he won the Goncourt Prize for Missing Person. He won the National Literature Grand Prize for his entire body of work in 1996.
In his first interview after winning the Nobel Prize in Literature, Modiano said he was “touched” and “moved.” He further expressed that he never thought it would happen to him. Modiano will travel to Stockholm in December to accept the award with his current family, which includes his two daughters and a grandson, to whom he has dedicated the prestigious award.
By Jennifer Fernicola Ronay