When I first learned that Modiano had won the 2014 Nobel Prize in Literature, my first reaction was, “Who?” But I dutifully added him to my list of authors to explore. When I finally found several of his books on the shelf, I chose this not because of its length (just 120 pages), but because it was the only one that didn’t have the Holocaust mentioned on the back. (I often take self-imposed breaks from stories that relate to the Holocaust. Given this new survey though – http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2014/05/the-world-is-full-of-holocaust-deniers/370870/ – maybe I shouldn’t.)
I should have known better. The Holocaust is here, albeit at some distance, a distance some try to keep in almost surreal ways. Our narrator, Jean B., is moving in and out of time, in and out of place, and in and out of reality. Boundaries are blurring, and he has settled, comfortably, into the grey. We’re in Beckett country here.
Modiano’s prose is straightforward. He lets his details do the work and Barbara Wright, his translator, belongs to that school of translators that dictates that the translator’s job is to stay out of the way.
The cover art, a detail from The Philosopher’s Conquest by Giorgio de Chirico (here’s the whole thing – http://www.artic.edu/aic/collections/artwork/30839) is the perfect choice. Verba Mundi, an International Literature Series, has produced a nice edition.
I look forward to more Modiano.