Nobel literature prize goes to France's Patrick Modiano

French writer Patrick Modiano, who won this year's Nobel Prize in literature, is pictured in Paris on October 7, 2003.

Story highlights

  • French author Patrick Modiano wins the Nobel Prize for literature
  • He is honored "for the art of memory," says Nobel committee
  • Modiano is well known in France but has not enjoyed the same fame elsewhere
  • He has published some 30 books, often on the themes of memory, loss and identity
A French author whose tales center on memory and guilt has won this year's Nobel Prize in literature, the Nobel committee in Sweden said Thursday.
Patrick Modiano, 69, is the 11th Nobel literature prize winner born in France.
He is being honored "for the art of memory with which he has evoked the most ungraspable human destinies and uncovered the life-world of the occupation," the committee said.
Peter Englund, permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, said Modiano was "well known in France, but pretty well not anywhere else."
Born in 1945, Modiano has published some 30 books, mainly novels -- for which he is chiefly known -- but also some children's books and movie scripts.
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His novels tend to be short, often 130 to 150 pages in length, and written in simple language, Englund said, but they are refined and elegant in nature.
"They are always versions of the same theme -- about memory, about loss, about identity, about seeking," he said.
Modiano, who published his first novel in 1968, has previously been recognized with some of the most prestigious prizes in French literature, including the Prix Goncourt in 1978.
Englund's own recommendation? The novel "Missing Person," which plays with the detective genre as its protagonist, who has lost his memory, seeks to find out who he really is.
The Swedish committee has not yet been able to reach Modiano to tell him of his win, he added.
Troubled past
In a 2011 interview with the cultural journal France Today, Modiano said of writing, "Actually, I never thought of doing anything else."
The child of a Belgian mother and an Italian Jewish father, his was a difficult, fragmented childhood, the journal says. His experiences are recounted in his memoir, "Un Pedigree," published in 2005.
His works are infused with questions of identity, often tied in with France's troubled past during the Nazi Occupation.
"After each novel, I have the impression that I have cleared it all away," he told France Today. "But I know I'll come back over and over again to tiny details, little things that are part of what I am. In the end, we are all determined by the place and the time in which we were born."
Sticking with familiar themes, he also made the 1974 movie "Lacombe, Lucien" with director Louis Malle, which was set during the Occupation.
His latest work is the novel "Pour que tu ne te perdes pas dans le quartier," published this month.
The Nobel Prize in literature has been awarded 107 times since 1901. It is almost always awarded to one author and has been shared only four times, which stands in contrast to the science Nobels, which two or three scientists often share.
The winner of the Nobel Peace Prize will be announced Friday, followed by the award for achievements in economics Monday.