A Glimpse Inside Patrick Modiano’s Dora Bruder

Nobel Prize winner Patrick Modiano’s haunting and lyrical book, Dora Bruder, is one of few works in English by the author, and was recently cited in the Wall Street Journal as “one of the author’s most beloved books.”

As with the deepest journeys of discovery, the historical collides with the personal in this layered and nuanced investigation. Modiano’s search to uncover Dora Bruder’s past becomes entangled with his own life’s enigmas, which, like Dora’s, remain unspoken and unresolved.

The below excerpt conveys this intimate connection, his own memories wrapped together with those of his real, yet imagined, character. Join Modiano—and thousands of readers—on a journey through the streets of today’s Paris and yesterday’s, where we confront these ghosts, memories, and mysteries.

Dora Bruder with her mother and father.
Dora Bruder with her mother and father

Dora Bruder with her mother
Dora Bruder with her mother

Dora Bruder with her mother and grandmother
Dora Bruder with her mother and grandmother

 

Excerpt from Dora Bruder

I remember the intensity of my feelings while I was on the run
in January 1960—an intensity such as I have seldom known.
It was the intoxication of cutting all ties at a stroke: the clean
break, deliberately made, from enforced rules, boarding
school, teachers, classmates; you have nothing to do with these
people from now on; the break from your parents, who have
never understood you, and from whom, you tell yourself, it’s
useless to expect any help; feelings of rebellion and solitude
carried to flash point, taking your breath away and leaving you
in a state of weightlessness. It was probably one of the few
times in my life when I was truly myself and following my own
bent.

This ecstasy cannot last. It has no future. You are swiftly
brought down to earth.

Running away—it seems—is a call for help and occasionally
a form of suicide. At least you experience a moment of
eternity. You have broken your ties not only with the world
but also with time. And one fine morning you find that the
sky is a pale blue and that nothing now weighs you down. In
the Tuileries garden, the hands on the clock have stopped for
good. An ant is transfixed in its journey across a patch of sunlight.

I think of Dora Bruder. I remind myself that, for her, running
away was not as easy as it was for me, twenty years later, in a
world that had once more been made safe. To her, everything
in that city of December 1941, its curfews, its soldiers, its police,
was hostile, intent on her destruction. At sixteen years old,
without knowing why, she had the entire world against her.

Photo by by Frankie Fouganthin [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Patrick Modiano was awarded the 2014 Nobel Prize in Literature and is one of the most celebrated French novelists of his generation. Dora Bruder has been translated worldwide in 20 languages.