April 21, 2018 | Rome, Italy | °C
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Bios & Memoirs


Zero K

Don DeLillo's latest future-sprawl, cryonic freezing included, doesn't quite know what it most wants to say.

Swallowed by the Cold

Jensen Beach's 15 stories are set in Sweden and convey equal doses of wisdom and melancholy.


Amelia Gray is adept enough with grotesqueness to make it feel second nature, and that's a gift.

How to Set a Fire and Why

Jesse Ball's study of teen alienation, while persuasive, heads for and reaches a dead end.

The Teeth of the Comb and Other Stories

Osama Alomar's latest collection of stories in miniature prove his worth as a Mideast magical realist.

I Am the Brother of XX

Fleur Jaeggy's latest book is a stunning collection of short stories in which the living exist to seek exit.

To the Back of the Beyond

In Peter Stamm's latest novel, a loving husband takes a walk from which it seems he never returns.

The World Goes On

László Krasznahorkai's newest collection of stories is yet another ode in his ongoing courtship of oblivion.


British author Fiona Mozley's debut novel is a rural thriller that never relinquishes its grip.

A State of Freedom

Neel Mukherjee's "A State of Freedom" is a beautiful and terrifying trip into India's rot and wonder.

Missing Person
By Patrick Modiano, translated from the French by Daniel Weissbort
Verba Mundi, 1980 (2005). 168 pages

It's 1966 in Paris, a gloomy city still hobbled by the shame of Nazi occupation and Vichy collaboration. Guy is a private eye whose boss, Hutte, is retiring, closing down their agency after a decade. But Guy is a man burdened with a permanent puzzle. He's an amnesiac Hutte conferred with an identity and job to paper over a patchwork past. Now liberated from his fake self, Guy finally wants to uncover "my former life" and how he found himself in Paris, details lost to amnesia.

Modiano's darkly brilliant thriller about the perils of recollection is a trip through cold, dark Parisian streets, real ones and those embroidered by Guy's mind that seeks to populate the past with all manner of "hurrying shadows." Each bit of research — photos of strangers into which inserts himself — leads Guy backward, into occupied Paris, the half-lives of Russian émigrés, of would-be aristocrats, of diplomats from the Americas who were diplomats in name alone, their papers and identities faked. Like "a water diviner watching for the slightest movement of his pendulum," Guy claims each person he thinks might have been him as his long lost self, but only until he comes up with a more plausible alternative. Slowly, his detective work yields results, but even these are little more than an ambiguous meshwork of wartime trauma from which Guy — or Freddie, or Mr. McEvoy or Jimmy Pedro Stern — can sculpt no one self. Might he have tried to escape from Vichy into Switzerland and caused the death of his lover? The answers are yes, no and maybe.

Modiano, who won the 2014 Nobel Prize, handles psychological claustrophobia as if he alone knew its Parisian code. Nothing is sure. No one remembers reliably. Identity is either indistinct or ephemeral. People themselves are "steam which will never condense." This is Paris portrayed in the vein of the Vienna of Harry Lime in "The Third Man," with zither players, homosexual bars and mysterious dames inclined toward suicide. Modiano's Gay Paree is all grime, a place where no one wants to think too hard, lest they're asked to remember the fate of "vanished people," the gateway to vast guilt. Published in French as "Rue des boutiques oscures" (lifted from Rome's Via delle Botteghe Oscure), it won the Prix Goncourt in 1978.

Reviewed by Book Staff
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