An obscure French writer, all but unknown in the United States, has been awarded the 2014 Nobel Prize in Literature.
The choice to bestow the writing’s most prestigious honor to Patrick Modiano has some in the literary world scratching their heads, while others recognize this author as a unparalleled talent and deserving recipient.
Modiano writes and publishes in French. Although his books have been translated into more than 30 languages, few have been rendered into English. But even these titles have never caught fire with American, or any of the Anglo-English speaking nations.
One of his most successful, award-winning novels, Missing Persons, was issued in English translation in the United States in 2004. It sold a paltry 2,400 copies before vanishing from American bookstores forever.
Modiano is a prolific writer, having produced some 30 novels since 1968. He has also written screenplays and children’s books. Several of his works have been adapted as feature films, all of them French-language films.
Sometimes compared to Marcel Proust, Modiano might also be compared to the likes of Philip K. Dick. That’s because a persistent theme in Modiano’s works are characters who are strangely unhinged from reality, and confused about reality.
His protagonists have problems with memory. They struggle to determine what is real and imagined, or perhaps only dreamed. They labor to come to grips with the meaning of their own lives. Memories and every-day events shift and flow without anchor in a solid foundation of reality. In a Modiano book, few people can be entirely certain about their own identities, or of anything, for that matter.
This is not science fiction, or fantasy, however. Some have described his works as “surreal detective novels.” What’s being investigated by the characters is the nature of their own reality as they try to figure out just who the hell they are, why they are here and, well, what on earth is life all about?
Prior to winning the Nobel, Modiano scored numerous other top literary awards, including the Austrian State Prize for European Literature, the Prix mondial Cino Del Duca from the Institut de France, the rix Goncourt and the 2 Grand Prix du roman de l’Académie française.
Patrick Modiano is 69 years old and lives in Boulogne-Billancourt, a commune in the western suburbs of France. He is the 111th person to win the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Ken Korczak is a former newspaper reporter, government information officer, served as an advocate for homeless people as a VISTA Volunteer, and taught journalism at the University of North Dakota for five years. He is the author of: BIRD BRAIN GENIUS
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