French author Patrick Modiano wins 2014 Nobel Prize for literature

The writer has made a lifelong study of the Nazi occupation and its effects on his country

Published October 9, 2014 12:24PM (EDT)

French novelist Patrick Modiano. (AP Photo/Gallimard)      (AP)
French novelist Patrick Modiano. (AP Photo/Gallimard) (AP)

STOCKHOLM (AP) — Patrick Modiano of France, who has made a lifelong study of the Nazi occupation and its effects on his country, won the 2014 Nobel Prize in literature on Thursday.

The Swedish Academy gave the 8 million-kronor ($1.1 million) prize to Modiano for evoking "the most ungraspable human destinies" and uncovering the world of life behind the Nazi occupation.

Modiano, 69, whose novel "Missing Person" won the prestigious Prix Goncourt in 1978, was born in a west Paris suburb in July 1945, two months after World War II ended in Europe. His father was of Jewish-Italian origins and met his Belgian actress mother during the occupation of Paris.

Jewishness, the Nazi occupation and loss of identity are recurrent themes in his novels, which include 1968's "La Place de l'Etoile" — later hailed in Germany as a key post-Holocaust work.

Modiano, who lives in Paris, rarely accords interviews. He has published more than 40 works in French, some of which have been translated into English, including "Ring of Roads: A Novel," ''Villa Triste," ''A Trace of Malice," and "Honeymoon."

He has also written children's books and film scripts, including co-writing the 1974 movie "Lacombe, Lucien" with director Louis Malle and the 2003 movie "Bon Voyage" with director Jean-Paul Rappeneau.

He was a member of the jury at the Cannes Film Festival in 2000 and in 2012 won the Austrian State Prize for European Literature.

Dervila Cooke of Dublin City University, author of a book on Modiano, said his works dealt with the traumas of France's past but have a "darkly humorous touch."

"His prose is crystal clear and resonant," she said. "A common description of his work is of its petite musique — it's haunting little music."

Peter Englund, the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy said Modiano's works often explore the themes of time, memory and identity.

"He is returning to the same topics again and again simply because these topics, you can't exhaust them," Englund told journalists in Stockholm. "You can't give a definite answer to: Why did I turn into the person I am today? What happened to me? How will I break out of the weight of time? How can I reach back into past times?"

Englund said Modiano also likes to play with the detective genre. In "Missing Person" he wrote about a private detective who is about to launch his last investigation — finding out who he is because he has completely lost his memory.

Betting on Modiano to win the Nobel Prize surged in the week before the announcement, raising questions about a possible leak. David Williams of bookmaker Ladbrokes said Modiano's odds had shortened from 100-1 a few months ago to 10-1 before the announcement.

Something similar occurred the last time there was a French winner, when Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio won the Nobel literature prize in 2008. The academy at the time suspected a leak.

But Williams said the betting pattern on Modiano was not suspicious.

"We are experts in analyzing betting patterns and we kind of know what a leak looks like. This doesn't look like a leak. It just looks like his fans got behind him and gave him a bit of momentum," he told The Associated Press.

Last year's prize went to Canadian writer Alice Munro for her mastery of the short story.

This year's Nobel Prize announcements started Monday with a U.S.-British scientist splitting the medicine prize with a Norwegian husband-and-wife team for brain research that could pave the way for a better understanding of diseases like Alzheimer's.

Two Japanese researchers and a Japanese-born American won the physics prize Tuesday for the invention of blue light-emitting diodes, a breakthrough that spurred the development of LED as a new light source.

The chemistry prize on Wednesday went to two Americans and a German researcher who found new ways to give microscopes sharper vision, letting scientists peer into living cells with unprecedented detail to seek the roots of disease.

The announcements continue Friday with the Nobel Peace Prize and the economics award on Monday.

The awards will be presented on Dec. 10, the anniversary of prize founder Alfred Nobel's death in 1896.


Associated Press writers Thomas Adamson in Paris and Jill Lawless in London contributed to this report.

By Karl Ritter

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Nobel Prize Nobel Prize For Literature Patrick Modiano