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Category Archive for 'Eth – F'

On March 24, 1946, fifty-four-year-old world chess champion Alexandre Alekhine was found dead in his hotel room at the famed Hotel do Parque in Estoril, Portugal. He had been living there alone for two months during the off-season, first awaiting news of a worthy opponent and then awaiting the details regarding a future match. As Italian author Paolo Maurensig develops this story, Alekhine’s life in several different countries under several different governments begins to unfold, and the suspicious circumstances in which his body was found lead to the inescapable conclusion that this death may not have been an accident. Alekhine was fully dressed and wearing a heavy coat as he sat in his overheated room, apparently eating a meal, though he had attended a full dinner in his honor that same night. The journalist who reported on his death in the Portuguese press, Artur Portela, did so in the face of strong censorship and the influence of the secret police of long-time ruler Antonio de Oliveira Salazar, which promptly ended the investigation, making no comment at all. The investigation by Portela, the journalist, provides author Maurensig with details of the case which he develops. Enjoyable as a picture of the times, whether or not you are a chess aficionado.

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“July is the fireworks season. A whole world, on the brink of extinction, was sending up one last flurry of sparks beneath the foliage and the paper lanterns. People jostled each other, they spoke in loud voices, laughed, pinched each other nervously. You could hear glasses breaking, car doors slamming. The exodus was beginning…Smoke rises […]

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In the third novel of the Occupation Trilogy, Patrick Modiano, then twenty-six, presents a narrative in which the speaker makes an effort to find and to know his father, who is not really co-operative. Like Modiano’s father during and after the war, this father has also been absent from his son’s life and is also a member of a gang which is taking advantage of the chaos to make money from selling illegal goods on the blackmarket. Modiano’s depiction of their lives and activities is very different from what was common among French writers at that time, as most authors explored new writing styles – surrealism, existentialism, and the absurd, among others – and did not deal with their own possible complicity in the Occupation. Here young Modiano shows his sense of reality as his narrator searches for his father at two different times, ten years apart, getting to know him in unexpected ways, but leaving open questions at the end of the novel. (Those unfamiliar with Modiano would do well to start with SUSPENDED SENTENCES as an introduction.)

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Set in that fraught period between the German occupation of France during World War II and the liberation which came much later, Patrick Modiano’s second novel, written in 1969, when he was just twenty-three years old, incorporates as his main character a young man who is at a total loss about what to do with his life. Describing himself as someone who “started out a pure and innocent soul,” he admits that his “innocence got lost along the way.” The people who have gravitated toward him now are former policemen and criminals, including an official now known as the Khedive, who have opened a “detective agency” from which they are collecting protection money. The Khedive, who still has important contacts throughout the police department, has high hopes himself of eventually becoming “Monsieur le Prefet de Police.” The young man known only as “Swing Troubadour,” does dirty work for this group, sometimes referred to as The Night Watch, earning a huge salary in the process. Possessing a warrant card and a gun license, the young man is ordered to infiltrate a “ring” of enemies and destroy it.

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When Patrick Modiano won the Nobel Prize for literature in 2014, only a few of his many books were available in English. Publishers quickly answered the call, and now most of his books are available to English speakers. One of the most recent to be translated is Modiano’s first novel, published when he was twenty-two, LA PLACE de L’ETOILE, a novel which explodes with the pent-up creative energy of an immature but highly sensitive young man. Among other things, he dreams of becoming a teacher and claims that he is six feet, six inches tall. He also claims that he has been put in charge of the procurement (and kidnapping) of high class women to work in the sex trade and that that he has been a longtime lover of Eva Braun, traveling the world – to Poland, Vienna, Istanbul, Egypt, and Palestine – laundering counterfeit money and trafficking in gold. Filled with the kind of imagination which young writers delight in exploring, this is one of the wildest debut novels I’ve ever read, filled with his personal fantasies and an enduring sense of irony and humor.

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