Thursday, October 9, 2014

Nobel Prize in Literature, 2014

The Nobel Prize in Literature 2014 was awarded to 

Patrick Modiano 

for the art of memory with which he  

has evoked the most ungraspable human destinies and 

uncovered the life-world of the occupation"

Patrick Modiano, the French novelist whose works often explore the traumas of the Nazi occupation of France and hinge on the themes of memory, alienation and the puzzle of identity, won the 2014 Nobel Prize in Literature on Thursday.

In an announcemen
t in Stockholm, the Swedish Academy cited Mr. Modiano’s ability to evoke “the most ungraspable human destinies” in his work.

The Nobel, one of the most prestigious and financially generous awards in the world, comes with a $1.1 million prize. The literature prize is given out for a lifetime of writing rather than for a single work.

Mr. Modiano was born in 1945 to a Belgian mother who worked as an actress and a Jewish-Italian father who was often absent during his childhood. Mr. Modiano, who has published around 30 works, including novels, children’s books and screenplays, first rose to prominence in 1968 with his novel “La Place de l’Étoile.” He won the prestigious Prix Goncourt in 1978 for his novel “Missing Person.” Many of his fictional works are set in Paris and delve into the moral dilemmas that citizens faced under the Nazi occupation. Some play with the detective genre.

About a dozen of his works have been translated into English, as well as into other European languages, but he is not widely known outside France.

In a 2011 interview with France Today, a culture and travel journal, Mr. Modiano said he always aimed to be a writer. “I never thought of doing anything else,” he said. “I had no diploma, no definitive goal to achieve. But it is tough for a young writer to begin so early. Really, I prefer not to read my early books. Not that I don’t like them, but I don’t recognize myself anymore, like an old actor watching himself as a young leading man.”

His most famous works include “Missing Person,” a story of an amnesiac who travels the world trying to piece together his identity; “Dora Bruder,” which investigates the disappearance of a young Jewish girl in 1941; and “Out of the Dark,” a moody, hallucinatory novel whose narrator pines after a former lover who has changed her name and denies that their affair took place. A 1999 New York Times review of “Out of the Dark” described it as “both suspenseful and contemplative.”

Mr. Modiano, 69, is the 11th writer born in France to win the prize. Recent winners for the literature prize have included the Canadian short-story writer Alice Munroin 2013; the Chinese novelist Mo Yan in 2012; the Swedish poet Tomas Transtromer, in 2011; and the Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa in 2010. The last American writer to win the Nobel in literature was Toni Morrison, in 1993.

Anne Ghisoli, the director of Librairie Gallimard, a leading bookstore in Paris, said that at a time of economic and social doldrums in France, Mr. Modiano’s award was a “happy surprise” and would help raise awareness of a writer who is better known in his home country than he is abroad.

“It’s a surprise,” she said. “He has readers in France, and there is always interest in his books, which sell very well. But this prize will help raise the global profile of one of our consummate writers. He is a master of writing on memory and occupation, which haunt and inform his work. He is a chronicler of Paris, its streets, its past and its present.”

In a country often obsessed by past glories, she said, the Nobel award underlined that French contemporary culture was thriving. “This is good news from France and shows that, despite the depressing climate here, people are creating things and French contemporary fiction is alive and well,” she said.

In choosing Mr. Modiano, the academy seems to be shrugging off criticism that the literature prize has often been too Eurocentric and concentrated on lesser-known writers who focus on political themes. The Nobel committee has drawn criticism in the past for shunning authors whose works are widely read in favor of more obscure writers. The selection of Ms. Munro last year was celebrated by many in the literary community as a sign that the academy was embracing more mainstream and popular authors.

The Swedish Academy, which has 18 members, including poets, novelists and literary scholars, has been more transparent about the selection process recently. The academy’s permanent secretary, Peter Englund, said in February that they had received 271 nominations for the literature prize this year and had whittled the list down to 210, which included 36 first-time nominees. Academy members chose a short list of five candidates whose work they studied over the summer.

In the past, the literature prize has been heavily weighted toward novelists: The prize has gone to 76 prose writers, 33 poets, 14 playwrights, three philosophers and essayists, and two historians.

(Courtesy: NY Times) (nobleprize,org)

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