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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Friday, May 13, 2016

Modiano's early themes - and late

Patrick Modiano's 1968 debut novel, Place d'l'etoile, is difficult on many levels immature dated extreme show-off and yet you know you're reading a work by someone who will grow into a major talent and you can definitely see all the signs : great knowledge of the French literary tradition and of world literature as a whole and, most important,ma powerful theme : the position of the Jew in post occupied France and the relation of French pluralistic culture to the Jewish population in the shadow of the nazi occupation. He will continue to examine and develop these themes w increasing sophistication over the next half-century. In this novel the narrator is a French jew named Raphael schlemivits (sp?) - a name that tells you in a way the whole story. He reflects that he was a collaborator during the occupation and now (about 1946?) he is reassertion get his Judaism but w a great deal of guilt - which he displaces by seeking revenge. He poses as a French aristocrat and is taken in by various provincials enthralled by his good looks name dropping and literary poses - but his real motive is to kidnap their daughters and sell them into sex slavery in South America! Believable? Not for a second nor is it meant to be. What we see here is the uneasy relationship between Jews and others in France post war: as a Jew he wants to assert his identity but can never again feel at home in his native culture. He hears and over hears the most vile anti Semitic comments when he is under cover. There are many rough edges to the story - it's almost impossible to reconcile various element including the narrator's age - and the biggest black hole - again, intentionally - is the occupation itself. What did the narrator do to survive? That's an irrecoverable memory - one of the many theme Modiano maintains to this day - along w the father w gangster connections the mother as an itinerant actress the child as abandoned.

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