Monday, November 23, 2020

Dora Bruder by Patrick Modiano

I had not heard of Patrick Modiano before, with the caveat that I most likely saw the announcement that he won the Nobel Prize in 2014, was briefly sad that it wasn’t Cormac McCarthy (who I was rooting for to get the award at the time), and moved on. Recently, though, in an online book group, this book got mentioned and it really piqued my interest.

Dora Bruder is partly fiction and partly based on actual research. The story begins in the late eighties with Modiano reading an article in an issue of the Paris Soir newspaper from 1942 in which he sees a notice about a missing girl, Dora Bruder, then fifteen. She ran away from her boarding school in occupied Paris, and her family was concerned. She and her family were Jewish, and, predictably, things go very poorly for them. Saying spoiler alert for a book about Jewish experience in WWII tips the hat where the book ultimately goes. Throughout the text, Modiano describes the research that he does to learn Dora’s story to tell it. His father, also Jewish, was in Paris at the same time as Dora. Modiano masterfully describes the process by which the historical resonances of the streets in which he grew up are brought home to him. This weaving of Modiano’s and his father’s story with the scant available details of Dora Bruder’s life is masterfully done. 

It’s not clear to me on one reading how much of this is fictionalized vs documented. Either way. by the end of the book Modiano has considered deeply the dark history of the place in which he lived.That process clears space for a commensurate process in the mind of the reader, both in terms of thinking about the horrors of the holocaust and of thinking of the history of their own cities. It’s a subtle thing he pulls off here and it took time for the full impact of it to hit me. Nevertheless, it was a powerful book and I look forward to reading more of Modiano’s work.

Highly Recommended  

Library Books and Everything Else 35/35

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