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

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Thursday, May 12, 2016

Modiano's first novel - and the absence of the Occupation years

Started reading Patrick Modiano's first novel, Place d'Etoile (reference to both the Parisian intersection and the star that Jews were ordered to wear on left-side chest during WWII) - novel from 1968 set at least initially just after the war. The protagonist and narrator is a French Jew with a long, almost comical German-Jewish surname, first name: Raphael, and these are his two sides or aspects: on the one hand a Jew and on the other an artist, dilettante, assimilated arriviste. In the first section of the novel we see him as a wealth young man - inherited money from a Bolivian uncle - who fashions himself after Fitzgerald (the high life) and Proust (the literary life), with ambitions of becoming the best French-Jewish writer. He is widely read (at least drops a lot of literary names and references), but in his journeys - some accompanied by his father - he encounters some bitter anti-Semitism. Yet the entire first part of the novel is written in high-comic, almost parodic tone - fairly typical of novels from the 1960, reminds at times of say The Ginger Man or Confederacy of Dunces. This high comic tone is intentionally disturbing - the novel not as fine and dark as Modiano's later works but we see hints of his style emerging. Perhaps most striking, the years of wartime occupation are barely mentioned - the Occupation is a background that colors everything, as in later Modiano novels characters seem to have amnesia about the war experiences, about the complicity, about their guilt, and these years are like a black hole - a presence that dominates by its absence.

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