Jean Patrick Modiano is a French novelist and recipient of the 2012 Nobel Prize in literature. He has written more than two dozen novels, as well as children’s books and screenplays. Though his work was little known in the English literature world before the Nobel Prize, his work has now been translated into 30 different languages. His work centers on issues such as memory, oblivion, identity and guilt. Very often his books are based on the troubles and shameful period of the occupation during World War II during which his father was allegedly engaged in shady dealings. The city of Paris is often present in his books, describing the evolution of its streets, its habits and the people.
Childhood & Early Life
Modiano was born shortly after World War II, on 30th July 1945 in Boulogne-Billancourt, a suburb of Paris. His father, Albert, was a Jewish-Italian businessman whereas his mother, Louisa was a Flemish actress.
His father used to work in the black market with French Gestapo. His parents divorced shortly after his birth. Hence, he was raised by his maternal grandparents.
As his mother used to be on tour and he was away from his father, Patrick grew very close to his younger brother, Rudy. However, Rudy died of leukemia at 9. This incidence was very tragic for Modiano. Later, he dedicated some of his works to his brother.
He attended ‘École du Montcel’ primary school in Jouy-en-Josas and ‘Henri-IV high school’. This is where he met his geometry teacher Raymond Queneau. Raymond was a writer and influenced Modiano’s development as a writer. He introduced Modiano to the literary world including his future publishers.
His father enrolled him, against his wish, in ‘Hypokhâgne’, a French post-secondary education. But soon Modiano stopped attending classes. In 1965, he was enrolled in ‘University of Paris’ to get a college degree. But he dropped out from there.
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In 1968, at the age of 22, Modiano published his first book ‘La Place de l'étoile’, a wartime novel about a Jewish collaborator. This novel was awarded the ‘Fénéon Prize’ and ‘Roger Nimier Prize’. German translation of this book was released in 2010. This translated book won the German ‘Preis der SWR-Bestenliste’ (Prize of the Southwest Radio Best-of List). In 2015, along with two other war time novels of Modiano, this book was translated in English under the title, ‘The Occupation Trilogy’.
In 1973, he co-wrote the screenplay of ‘Lacombe, Lucien’, a French war time drama film. It focuses on the involvement of a boy in the French Gestapo.
In the novel ‘Rue des Boutiques Obscures’, published in 1978, he addresses the never-ending search for identity. This novel was very well received by the French readers. This book was launched as ‘Missing Person’ for the English readers and won the Nobel Prize in 2014 and introduced Modiano as one of the finest writers to the entire world.
In 1995, he published a novel ‘Du Plus Loin de l'Oubli’. This novel is considered as a masterpiece of Modiano.
In 1997, he published ‘Dora Bruder’ which was translated as ‘The Search Warrant’ in English.
Modiano's 2007 novel ‘Dans le café de la jeunesse perdue’ is a detective novel based on 1960s Paris.
Modiano's 26th book, ‘L'Horizon’, published in 2011, is based on the story of a fragile man pursued by his mother's ghost, dwells on his youth and the people he has lost. Among them is the enigmatic, young woman whom 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, she boarded a train and vanished into the void—but not from hero’s memory. Forty years later, he is ready to look for his vanished love.
Apart from the above famous novels, some of Modiano’s less known works have been translated into English, among them are ‘Les Boulevards de ceinture’ (published in 1972), ‘Ring Roads : A Novel’ (published in 1974), ‘Villa Triste’ (published in 1975)
‘Quartier perdu’ was published in 1984 and translated as ‘A Trace of Malice’ in English in 1988. ‘Voyage de noces’ was published in 1990 and was translated as ‘Honeymoon’ in 1992.
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His latest work ‘Pour que tu ne te perdes pas dans le quartier’ was published in 2014.
Epitome of Modiano’s work is the novel ‘Missing Person’ (Rue des Boutiques Obscures) which was published in 1978. This book talks about never ending search of identity in the world. The central character in this novel suffers from amnesia and travels from Polynesia to Rome to collect data on his past and his acquaintances. This novel was awarded the Goncourt Prize in 1978. This book also received 2014 Nobel Prize in literature.
The 1996 released ‘Du Plus Loin de l'Oubli’ (Out of the Dark) novel is another masterpiece of Modiano. In this novel, the narrator recalls his shadowy love affair in the 1960s with an enigmatic woman. Fifteen years after their breakup, they meet again, but she has changed her name and denies their past. This book is a classic example of a dreamlike novel that defines Modiano's obsessions and nostalgic prose.
‘Dora Bruder’ was published in 1997. This novel is a literary hybrid, fusing together — biography, autobiography and detective theme. This emotional novel is based on Modiano's real-life investigation into the disappearance of a young Jewish girl, announced in an edition of the French newspaper ‘Paris Soir’ in 1941. The story is based on a 15-year-old daughter of Eastern European Jewish immigrants. This book was translated in English as ‘The Search Warrant’.
Awards & Achievement
Modiano's first novel, ‘La Place de l'étoile, received both the Prix Fénéon and the Prix Roger-Nimier in 1968.
He won the ‘Prix Goncourt’ in 1978 for his novel ‘Rue des boutiques obscures’ (Missing Person).
In 1972, he was awarded ‘Grand Prix du roman de l'Académie française’ for his book ‘Les Boulevards de ceinture’.
He also won the 2010 ‘Prix mondial Cino Del Duca’ from the ‘Institute de France’ for his lifetime achievement and the 2012 ‘Austrian State Prize for European Literature’.
He won the 2014 Nobel Prize in Literature for his novel ‘Missing Person’.
Personal Life & Legacy
Madiano married Dominique Zehrfuss in 1970. Dominique is an artist and jewellery designer of Tunisian-Jewish origin. They live in a spacious apartment in Paris’ chic Saint-Sulpice neighborhood.
They have two daughters, Zina born in 1974 and Marie born in 1978. Zina is a French film writer and director where as Marie is a French singer and writer.