Missing Person

  • winner of the 2014 nobel prize in literature

In this strange, elegant novel, winner of France’s premier literary prize the Prix Goncourt, Patrick Modiano portrays a man in pursuit of the identity he lost in the murky days of the Paris Occupation, the black hole of French memory.

For ten years Guy Roland has lived without a past. His current life and name were given to him by his recently retired boss, Hutte, who welcomed him, a onetime client, into his detective agency. Guy makes full use of Hutte’s files – directories, yearbooks, and papers of all kinds going back half a century – but his leads are few. Could he really be the person in that photograph, a young man remembered by some as a South American attaché? Or was he someone else, perhaps the disappeared scion of a prominent local family? He interviews strangers and is tantalized by half-clues until, at last, he grasps a thread that leads him through the maze of his own repressed experience.

On one level Missing Person is a detective thriller, a 1950s film noir mix of smoky cafés, illegal passports, and insubstantial figures crossing bridges in the fog. On another level, it is also a haunting meditation on the nature of the self. Modiano’s sparce, hypnotic prose, superbly translated by Daniel Weissbort, draws his readers into the intoxication of a rare literary experience.

Delicate and cunning . . . Modiano’s method is to sidle up to subjects of mystery and horror, indicating them without broaching them, as if gingerly fingering the outside of a poison bottle. . . he opens dark doors into the past out of a sunlit present.
John Sturrock, Times Literary Supplement

Missing Person has the pace and economy of a good crime novel, but it also has an allegorical heft, suggesting that modern France’s own identity lies somewhere in the fog of occupation. —The New York Review of Books

Read excerpts of Modiano’s works here.

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Patrick Modiano was born near Paris 1945. His other works in English include Catherine Certitude (Godine, 1993), Missing Person (Godine, 2005) for which he won the Prix Goncourt in 2008, A Trace of Malice, and the screenplay Lacombe Lucien (with Louis Malle).

Daniel Weissbort was born in London and educated at Cambridge, where he was a History Exhibitioner. In 1965, with Ted Hughes, he founded the magazine Modern Poetry in Translation (MPT) which he edited for almost forty years. He also directed the Translation Workshop and MFA Program in Translation at the University of Iowa for over thirty years. In addition to his translations, Daniel Weissbort published many collections of his own poetry, co-edited a historical reader in translation theory, and wrote a book about the translator Ted Hughes.