10/09/2014 04:52 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Patrick Modiano: 7 Passages - In English - From France's Obscure Nobel Prize Winner

Cabaret performances at the Moulin Rouge continued during Nazi occupation.

This article first appeared at Worldcrunch.

PARIS – The 2014 Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded Thursday to Patrick Modiano, a 69-year-old French author whose work you probably don't know if you aren’t from France. Indeed, most of his books have remained untranslated, though that may change after his Nobel win.

The committee in Stockholm cited the author’s “art of memory with which he has evoked the most ungraspable human destinies.” Much of his best-known work centers around the experience in Nazi-occupied Paris during World War II.

His French fans here at the Worldcrunch office in Paris speak of “his own genre” …. ”really more poetry than prose” … “disappear(ing) into his language.”


With the help of a Babelio fan page, we have collected and translated a small selection of passages from four of his books. The first come from the novel "Rue Des Boutiques Obscure" that shot him to fame after it was awarded France's Prix Goncourt, it was translated into English with the title "Missing Person." The other books are not available in English.

Rue des Boutiques Obscures 1978
"Until then everything had seemed so chaotic, so fragmented... Scraps, shreds of something were coming back to me as a result of my searches. But after all, that is perhaps what a life is."

Vestiaire de l'Enfance (Childhood Locker) 1989
And this old immortal's secret to a century of longevity, it had to be the utter absence of that organ that tires quickly: the heart.

La Petite Bijou (The Small Jewelry) 2001
Beware of what we call witnesses.

Un Pedigree (A Pedigree) 2005
I would like to translate this impression that many others have felt before: everything was passing before me, transparent, and I could not yet live my life.

Dans Le Café de la Jeunesse Perdue (In The Cafe of Lost Youth) 2007
When you really love someone, you must accept their part of mystery. And that’s why you love them.

L'Herbe des Nuits (The Grass of Nights) 2012
"Since I started writing these pages, I’ve been telling myself that there is a way to fight against oblivion. It’s to go to certain parts of Paris where you had not returned for 30, 40 years and stay there the afternoon, as if you were standing guard."

Pour Que Tu Ne Te Perdes Pas Dans Le Quartier (So That You Don't Get Lost in the Neighborhood) 2014
"Almost nothing. Like an insect's bite that seems like nothing at first. Or at least, that’s what you whisper to yourself for reassurance."