French author Patrick Modiano won the 2014 Nobel Prize for Literature for chronicling Paris life under the Nazi occupation. Relatively unknown outside of France, Modiano’s works have centred on memory, oblivion, identity and guilt that often take place during the German occupation of the Second World War. He has written novels, children’s books and film scripts, all haunted by the memory of a love-starved childhood.
One of France’s most celebrated writers, the 69-year-old father of two, known for his shy, gentle manner, greeted news of his award as “weird”. “It felt like looking at a double, as if we were celebrating somebody who had my name,” Mr. Modiano said. “I didn’t expect it at all.”
Modiano was also at a loss when asked how he would celebrate his win. “Nothing special. I really didn’t expect this,” he said, adding that he would dedicate the prize to his grandson, who is Swedish.
Modiano was awarded the $1.1m prize “for the art of memory with which he has evoked the most ungraspable human destinies and uncovered the life-world of the occupation,” the Swedish Academy said. You could say he’s “a Marcel Proust of our time,” Peter Englund, permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, added.
Modiano was born in the Paris suburb of Boulogne-Billancourt in July 1945, several months after the official end of Nazi occupation in late 1944. Some of Modiano’s works, roughly 30, include A Trace of Malice and Honeymoon. His latest work is the novel Pour que tu ne te perdes pas dans le quartier.
In addition to his for movies, Mr. Modiano has appeared on screen, making a cameo as “Bob” alongside Catherine Deneuve in Raúl Ruiz’s 1997 film Genealogies of a Crime.
Although his books are celebrated in France and have been translated into 36 languages, Modiano isn’t well known in the U.S. During a packed news conference at his publisher here, Éditions Gallimard, the publicity-shy author said he reacted to the honor with disbelief and then emotion.
“I’m curious to know the reasons the committee chose me,” the author added with disarming modesty. “It’s hard as a writer to have an overall vision of your own work. It’s like a painter painting a ceiling fresco; you are up too close to see the whole thing.”