Patrick Modiano won the Nobel Prize in 2014 for his fiction writing. The appearance of any new work by a celebrated writer in English is exciting, particularly given that Modiano writes about grappling with what it means to live in France after World War II, which his Jewish father survived by being useful in the black market.
Modiano’s fiction, which deals in a haunting and elegiac way with memories of the places where he grew up and the persons missing from them evokes what is not there and his grappling with finding his own place in the world.
Modiano’s only memoir, Pedigree, has just been translated to English goes over the same subject matter as his fiction, but in a different key. “I’m writing these pages the way one compiles a report or a resume,” he writes, “as documentation and to have done with a life that wasn’t my own. It’s just a simple film of deeds and facts. I have nothing to confess or elucidate and I have no interest in soul-searching or self-reflection. On the contrary, the more obscure and mysterious things remained, the more interesting I found them.”
If one hasn’t yet read Modiano’s fiction, that is the best place to start to get to know his oeuvre. If one is committed to knowing more about Modiano’s life, the memoir would be of interest, but since the author himself sees the work as a “report or a resume,” the fiction, where the writer goes after the obscure and mysterious in a much more masterful and engaging fashion, is of greater interest.