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Patrick Modiano    

French Novelist & Nobel Peace Prize Winner

Patrick Modiano is a French novelist and recipient of the 2014 Nobel Prize in Literature. He previously won the 2012 Austrian State Prize for European Literature, the Prix mondial Cino Del Duca from the Institut de France for his lifetime achievement in 2010, the Prix Goncourt in 1978.

Modiano studied at the École du Montcel primary school in Jouy-en-Josas, at the Collège Saint-Joseph de Thônes in Haute-Savoie, and then at the Lycée Henri-IV high school in Paris. While he was at Henri-IV, he took geometry lessons from writer Raymond Queneau, who was a friend of Modiano's mother. He received his baccalaureate at Annecy but did not continue his higher education.

His meeting with Queneau, author of Zazie dans le métro, was crucial. It was Queneau who introduced Modiano to the literary world, giving him the opportunity to attend a cocktail party thrown by the publishing house Éditions Gallimard. In 1968 he published his first book La Place de l’Étoile, a wartime novel about a Jewish collaborator, after having read the manuscript to Queneau. The novel displeased his father so much that he tried to buy all existing copies of the book. Earlier while stranded in Paris during the Algerian war Modiano had asked his father for little financial assistance but his father called the police.

The 2010 release of the German translation of La Place de l'Étoile won Modiano the German Preis der SWR-Bestenliste (Prize of the Southwest Radio Best-of List) from the Südwestrundfunk radio station, which hailed the book as a major Post-Holocaust work.

In 1973, Modiano co-wrote the screenplay of Lacombe, Lucien, a movie directed by Louis Malle which focuses on the involvement of a boy in the "French Gestapo" after being denied admission to the French Resistance. The movie caused controversy due to the lack of justification of the main character's political involvement.

Modiano's novels all delve into the puzzle of identity, of how one can track evidence of one's existence through the traces of the past. Obsessed with the troubled and shameful period of the Occupation—during which his father had allegedly engaged in some shady dealings—Modiano returns to this theme in all of his novels, book after book building a remarkably homogeneous work.

In Modiano's 26th book L'Horizon (2011), the narrator, Jean Bosmans, a fragile man pursued by his mother's ghost, dwells on his youth and the people he has lost. Among them is the enigmatic Margaret Le Coz, a young woman he met and fell in love with in the 1960s. The two loners spent several weeks wandering the winding streets of a now long-forgotten Paris, fleeing a phantom menace. One day, however, without notice, Margaret boarded a train and vanished into the void—but not from Jean's memory. Forty years later, he is now ready to look for his vanished love. The novel not only epitomizes Modiano's style and concerns but also marks a new step in his personal quest, after a mysterious walkabout in Berlin. "The city is my age," he says, breaking another lingering silence to describe Berlin, almost a completely new city rebuilt from the ashes of war. "Its long, geometric avenues still bear the marks of history. But if you look at it right, you can still spot ancient wastelands beneath the concrete. These are the very roots of my generation." Symbolic roots that gave rise, over the years, to one of the most wonderful trees in French literature.


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