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French Novelist Patrick Modiano Wins Literature Nobel


We heard an announcement a short time ago from Peter Englund of the Swedish Academy, which chooses the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature.

PETER ENGLUND: The Nobel Prize in Literature for the year 2014 is awarded to the French author Patrick Modiano for the art of memory with which he has evoked the most ungraspable human destinies and uncovered the life-world of the occupation.

INSKEEP: Again, the writer's name is Patrick Modiano. He was born at the end of World War II and that time colors much of his work, which we're going to talk about now with NPR's Lynn Neary. Hi, Lynn.


INSKEEP: For those who have not heard of him, who is he?

NEARY: Well, of course Modiano is not well-known in this country, but the magazine France Today referred to him as the greatest French writer living today. In France, his work is both popular and critically acclaimed and his writing reflects his own story, which he wrote about in a memoir called "Un Pedigree."

His father was Jewish and his parents met during the Occupation. His father apparently supported himself during the Occupation by trading on the black market.

INSKEEP: When you say the Occupation, of course you're saying the German occupation of France.

NEARY: That's right.

INSKEEP: And this is something that many French aided in so it's a very difficult time and it's been a very difficult time since.

NEARY: That is one of the themes of his writing because in fact of his own family history, as we were just saying. And after the war, his father became a businessman, his mother was an actress. And they were away from Paris a great deal so they left him and his brother really much to their own devices. And it was when he was in school that a teacher sort of took care of him and started mentoring him because he realized what a great talent he was. This teacher was also a writer who was known in Paris and so helped him along through the years. You know, although he was born after World War II, right at the end of World War II, he was always haunted by the events of the Occupation. And as we've said, much of his work focuses on the time.

INSKEEP: How so?

NEARY: Well, his first novel, "La Place De L'Etoile," which translates as the place of the star, it refers both to a plaza in Paris, as well as to the star that Jews were required to wear over their hearts during the Occupation. And it focuses on the young man searching for his Jewish identity. Now, his father hated that book so much that apparently he tried to buy up all of the copies.


NEARY: Yeah. Now, the one thing that Americans may recognize, he cowrote the screenplay which was written by the director with Louis and that is a story of a young Jewish boy who collaborates with the Nazis after you trust to join the resistance is refused.

INSKEEP: So you mentioned this man is not old enough to have lived through World War IIworld war two really but he seems obsessed with the time. When you think drives that obsession?

NEARY: Well from what I can gather what I've read about him he was really trying to sort out his own feelings and his own identity. His own feelings about his father's role in the occupation and in one interview he was quoted as saying that he was distressed to be born in 1945 the fact he apparently lied for many years about his birth year he called himself a product of the dunghill of the occupation he said it was a time went to P show who never should have met met by chance and produce a child so that is the way he truly felt about what happened during the occupation.

INSKEEP: Led thanks for a much.

NEARY: Good to be here.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Lynn married during us the news today that the winner of the Nobel Prize is Patrick of France. This is NPR news. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lynn Neary is an NPR arts correspondent covering books and publishing.
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