When the Nobel committee announced that the literary prize was being awarded to Patrick Modiano I discovered that many of my well-read friends had never heard of the author. I myself had only read one of Modiano’s novels, and that one in French. Now I have read a half-dozen titles and am beginning to understand the author.
In a review of The Occupation Trilogy, the New York Times wrote:
This national-cum-personal history is at the heart of every one of Modiano’s works of fiction, and is particularly explicit in his first three novels. Released together in English translation as “The Occupation Trilogy,” these works confront the Gaullist publicity machine of a postwar France anxious to keep its Vichy skeletons in the closet. The first of the three, the satire “La Place de l’Étoile,” published in the pivotal year of 1968, paints an unsparing historical portrait of French anti-Semitism. The title itself announces that this history game will be played with sleeves rolled back and teeth bared, as it alludes both to the physical site of the Arc de Triomphe, the Parisian monument to France’s military prowess, and to the embodied site of France’s collaboration — that is, the place on the torso where Jews under the Occupation were ordered to wear the Star of David.
… “The Night Watch” and “Ring Roads,” published in 1969 and 1972, respectively, offer a relative stylistic calm after the storm of Modiano’s debut. Following on the conceit of “La Place de l’Étoile,” the idea that history makes the man (and not so much the other way around), these two novels approach the subject of France’s “behavior” during the Holocaust far less directly. In place of the monstrously debauched madman of the earlier novel, the narrators of these books exist on a human scale.
I found the three novels to be excellent reading. They cast an entirely different perspective on the German occupation of Paris in World War II an in no way can be construed as “war” novels. In fact, I am uncertain if there was any mention of the German armies, the fighting and the killing usually associated with war. Instead there was a naturalistic narrative of what went on in Paris during the “recent events.”
Modiano gives us a vivid yet understated insight into the black market, anti-semitism, criminal activity, and a general sense that in an occupied city it was easy to grab what you wanted since you might stop a stray bullet at any time. Memory is a key theme in Modiano’s work, but, as he relates in Ring Roads:
Today all these people have disappeared or have been shot. I suppose they’re no longer of any interest to anyone. Is it my fault that I am still a prisoner of my memories?
The Wikipedia entry for Patrick Modiano lists the following works:
- (1968) La Place de l’étoile (awarded Fénéon Prize and Roger Nimier Prize, 1968); English translation: As part of The Occupation Trilogy: La Place de l’Étoile, The Night Watch, Ring Roads (Bloomsbury USA, 2015)
- (1969) La Ronde de nuit; English translation: Night Rounds (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1971); The Night Watch (London: Bloomsbury, 2015)
- (1972) Les Boulevards de ceinture; English translation: Ring Roads (London: Gollancz, 1974; London: Bloomsbury, 2015)
- (1974) Lacombe, Lucien; screenplay co-written with Louis Malle; English translation: Lacombe, Lucien: The Complete Scenario of the Film (New York: Viking, 1975)
- (1975) Villa Triste
- (1977) Livret de famille
- (1978) Rue des Boutiques obscures; English translation: Missing Person (London: Jonathan Cape, 1980)
- (1981) Une jeunesse
- (1981) Memory Lane (drawings by Pierre Le-Tan)
- (1982) De si braves garçons
- (1984) Quartier Perdu; English translation: A Trace of Malice (Henley-on-Thames: Aidan Ellis, 1988)
- (1986) Dimanches d’août
- (1988) Catherine Certitude (illustrated by Sempé); English translation: Catherine Certitude (Boston: David R. Godine, 2000)
- (1988) Remise de peine; English translation: “Suspended Sentences,” in Suspended Sentences: Three Novellas, trans. by Mark Polizzotti (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 2014)
- (1989) Vestiaire de l’enfance
- (1990) Voyage de noces; English translation: Honeymoon (London: Harvill / HarperCollins, 1992)
- (1991) Fleurs de ruine; English translation: “Flowers of Ruin,” in Suspended Sentences: Three Novellas, trans. by Mark Polizzotti (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 2014)
- (1992) Un cirque passe; English translation: After the Circus trans. by Mark Polizzotti (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 2015)
- (1993) Chien de printemps; English translation: “Afterimage,” in Suspended Sentences: Three Novellas, trans. by Mark Polizzotti (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 2014)
- (1995) Du plus loin de l’oubli; English translation: Out of the Dark (Lincoln: Bison Books / University of Nebraska Press, 1998)
- (1997) Dora Bruder; English translations: Dora Bruder (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999), The Search Warrant (London: Random House / Boston: Harvill Press, 2000)
- (1999) Des inconnues
- (2001) La Petite Bijou
- (2003) Accident nocturne; English translation: Paris Nocturne trans. by Phoebe Weston-Evans
- (2004) Un pedigree; English translation: Pedigree trans. by Mark Polizzotti
- (2007) Dans le café de la jeunesse perdue; U.K. English translation In the Café of Lost Youth trans. by Euan Cameron; U.S. English trans. by Chris Clarke
- (2010) L’Horizon
- (2012) L’Herbe de nuit
- (2013) Romans (contains a foreword by the author, some photos of people and documents, and the following 10 novels: Villa Triste, Livret de famille, Rue des Boutiques Obscures, Remise de peine, Chien de printemps, Dora Bruder, Accident nocturne, Un pedigree, Dans le café de la jeunesse perdue and L’Horizon)
- (2014) Pour que tu ne te perdes pas dans le quartier; English translation: So You Don’t Get Lost in the Neighborhood trans. by Euan Cameron
One thought on “The Occupation Trilogy”
Simultaneously realistic and hallucinatory, suspenseful and calm, and finally, poignant.