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Nobel prize winner Modiano 'hardly known outside France'

Daniel Roland, AFP | The book "Pour que tu ne te perdes pas dans le quartier" by French author Patrick Modiano

French novelist Patrick Modiano on Thursday won the coveted Nobel Prize for Literature. FRANCE 24 asked renowned French scholar Antoine Compagnon, who lives in New York, to share his take on this year's award winner.

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Compagnon, who spoke to FRANCE 24 via telephone from Manhattan, is both the Blanche W. Knopf Professor of French and Comparative Literature at Columbia University and the Chair of Modern and Contemporary Literature at the prestigious Collège de France in Paris.

FRANCE 24: Is Patrick Modiano well known in the United States?

Antoine Compagnon: He is well known in literary circles, and certainly among people with an interest in French literature. Coincidentally, I had a conversation with a student last week who is considering writing his dissertation on Modiano.

But he is not well known among the public at large. His main publisher in the US is Verba Mundi, which is a very good American publisher, but it caters to the literary public. It is not a major commercial publisher, so Modiano is not widely available in ordinary bookstores.

I was very happy to learn this morning that he won the Nobel prize and I think it is a very good choice. Modiano has pursued an admirable enterprise, working on the same subject for decades. He is also a very modest writer. He is shy and is not often visible in the media. It’s good to see this very modest person win such a big prize.

F24: What does Modiano represent in French literature?

AC: A very consistent literary endeavor. He started very young, I think his first book was published in 1968, and he has been exploring the same vein for more than 40 years.

His work always has to do with the Nazi occupation in France and the preoccupations of that period. He usually offers an enigmatic vision of the city of Paris during the occupation.

F24: What is your take on Philip Roth being passed up by the Nobel Committee again?

AC: I am not sure why there has been a resistance to pick Roth, who has certainly deserved to win in the past.

He is not a loser, he is a great writer. I love Philip Roth and have read most of his novels.

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