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Category Archive for 'France'

Young Once, published originally in 1981, when Modiano was thirty-six, came as a huge and thrilling surprise to me, after I had already read eighteen of Modiano’s other autobiographical novels. Here, in what publisher New York Review Books describes as “his breakthrough novel,” Modiano “strips away the difficulties of his earlier work and finds a clear, mysteriously moving voice for his haunting stories of love, nostalgia, and grief.” The fact that main character Louis Memling, is twenty immediately captured my own attention because that is the one stage of author Modiano’s life which had been a total blank for me in his novels. Incomplete but ominous references to this period in Sleep of Memory, published in France in 2017, and which I had just read, added to a sense of mystery. Here two young people, Louis and Odile, are “adopted” by two older men who help them in their lives and offer them work but also take advantage of their naivete´. Soon they discover that they are being used for a criminal enterprise by their “friends.” One of Modiano’s very best.

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Published originally as Livret de Famille in 1977, and written when Patrick Modiano was barely thirty, this collection of stories, all of them autobiographical, provide details about his early life and his search for answers. Nobel Prize winner Modiano had a bizarre childhood, one in which he grew up without any real supervision – and love. As a result, virtually all of his books focus on his search for who he is, what his values are, and who he might yet become as he moves forward in life. This book is particularly revelatory, including as it does, an opening chapter in which he sees his newborn daughter for the first time, and later the stories of his wedding day, the early life of his mother, his fraught relationship with his father, and his own friendships at various stages of his life. The dream-like stories here are set at various stages of his life, and they do not follow chronological order, creating a feeling for the reader that s/he is moving with the author through memories which have had continuing effects on the author’s life. These stories and others leave questions for which Patrick does not even yet have answers, but all have left their marks on him in some significant way. One of his most fascinating books.

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Originally published in November, 1996, when French author Patrick Modiano was fifty-one, Dora Bruder gives new insights into the complex life and career of this Nobel Prize winner from 2014. As the novel opens, Modiano is remembering back to 1988, when he discovered an ad in an old copy of Paris-Soir dated 31 December, 1941, announcing as MISSING young girl, Dora Bruder, age 15, followed by her description. Since he knows the neighborhood in which the girl’s family lived, he decides to find out as much as he can about her life. Including his own memories, as he explores coincidences and events suggesting clairvoyance, Modiano spends eight years, during which he worked on other novels, searching for the missing Dora Bruder and her fate.

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From the opening paragraph, author Tanguy Viel is off and running with a propulsive story which never lets down and never quits until the last possible moment, when its ending comes as a relief or an irony to the involved reader. Set in Finistere, a depressed waterfront community in Brittany in the late 1990s, a man stands before a judge, trying to explain how and why he has killed another man aboard that man’s own Merry Fisher boat, and then returned home to await the inevitable arrival of the local police a few hours later. When he sees them arriving, he cannot help but admit that he “wouldn’t have done anything different…I would have done the same thing, heaved Antoine Lazenec overboard the same way and brought the boat back in the same way, following the channel to the yacht harbor while respecting the green and red buoys like railroad signals…” The killer, Martial Kermeur, is anxious to set the record straight, and he is impressed that this judge is “thirty, at most” and really seems to want to hear him out. In descriptive and involving prose, Kermeur describes his thoughts – “no they weren’t thoughts, images maybe…still whirling around.” And then suddenly, he sees the whole picture and begins: “It’s about a run-of-the-mill swindle, Your Honor, that’s all.”

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For those who have always seen Edgar Degas’s most famous ballerina statue as a sweet, romantic symbol combining dreams of the past with dreams of the present, this study of the model, the artist, and the environment in which the sculpture was created may be a shock. Author Camille Laurens spent over two years doing research on this sculpture and its little model as part of her PhD. thesis, and she became totally consumed with the little dancer’s victimization. In 1880, the girl who became the model for the sculpture, Marie van Goethem, was the fourteen-year-old child of Belgian immigrants, unschooled and working as a “little rat” in the Paris Opera, a child in training for the corps de ballet and earning almost no money. Harsh reality comes alive as Marie is needed by her family to help support them, and she eventually follows in the footsteps of her older sister, accepting a modeling job with Edgar Degas, in addition to working at the ballet. When Degas finally exhibits “Little Dancer” in 1881, it is a shock to viewers and critics. No one likes it – for many reasons – discussed in detail by the author. Ultimately, she feels sorry for the little dancer, and decides to do additional research on her life. Fascinating story of an intriguing sculpture by an author who has “done her homework.”

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