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Missing Person (Verba Mundi) (Verba Mundi Book) Paperback – November 30, 2004

3.7 out of 5 stars 59 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Twenty-seven years after its original French publication won the Prix Goncourt, this elliptical, engrossing rumination on the essence of identity and the search for self finally enjoys its first U.S. edition (which uses Weissbort's smooth 1980 English translation). Set in postwar Paris, it follows an amnesiac now known as Guy Roland, employed for the past decade by a kindly private investigator. When the PI retires, Roland sets out to lift the veil on his past. As he ably conducts this most personal of investigations, Roland begins to suspect that he may have employed multiple identities, leading a mysteriously compartmentalized existence. He may even have been fleeing the German occupation when his memory was wiped away. Roland's explorations bring home his mentor's observation that we all live in a world where "the sand keeps the traces of our footsteps only a few moments." Even as it opens the door to new mysteries, the enigmatic ending underscores the human drive to preserve those footsteps for as long as we draw breath. Frank Sennett
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Review

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

'The best place to fling oneself into Mr. Modiano's oeuvre.' --New York Times
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Product Details

  • Series: Verba Mundi Book
  • Paperback: 168 pages
  • Publisher: David R Godine (November 30, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1567922813
  • ISBN-13: 978-1567922813
  • Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 5.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (59 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #85,778 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I read this book on my Kindle in the French version (French is my mother tongue) as I bought it for my 100 year old mother who still reads one novel a week on her Kindle. She wanted to read this book as soon as she heard he had won the Nobel, this is a book that came out in 1978, the year Patrick Modiano won the Goncourt, a prestigious French prize. Before bringing it over to her, I read it, immediately taken in by the opening lines, unable to put it down. As I am now writing this critique, I just learned from an article in the Washington Post, that "Missing Person" is the book Peter Englund, a historian and the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, recommends to readers unfamiliar with Patrick Modiano. “It’s a fun book,” Englund said. “He’s playing with the genre.” And the genre he is playing with is mysteries. A detective, suffering from amnesia, sets out to recover his identity, following a variety of strange leads.

I'd like to recall here a very astute comment made sometime back by Anne Korkokeakivi, writing for THE MILLIONS, where she noted that French novels tend to be "... dark, searching, philosophical, autobiographical, self-reflective, and/or poetic (without being overwritten)."

Patrick Modiano's "Missing Person" precisely fits this description. It is all these things, dark, searching, self-reflective and yes, poetic.

Consider the first lines: "I am nothing. Nothing but a pale shape, silhouetted that evening against the café terrace, waiting for the rain to stop; the shower had started when Hutte left me."

Amazing, isn't it? The opening sentence is just three words, but how they resound. I am nothing. That is of course the whole theme of the book.
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Format: Paperback
"MISSING PERSON is on my short list of the very finest fiction since 1945. It's magnificent because of its vagueness. It's essential that the protagonist wander around in a daze to convey a Europe bereft of reference points, orientation and a sense of confident purpose.

"Mistah Kurz, he dead!" Conrad, Heart of Darkness.

"The empires of our time were shortlived, but they have altered the world forever. Their passing away is their least significant feature." Naipaul.

Heaped upon this lost purpose is the contribution of a subsequent interventionist: "If we fail, we will drag half the world down with us into the same abyss." Hitler.

MISSING PERSON illuminates European consciousness numbed and stupified by the fallout and consequences of these 3 historical developments.

This novel is a masterpiece.
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Format: Paperback
"I am nothing"* -- the opening phrase of this 1978 novel which won the Prix Goncourt for Patrick Modiano, now the most recent winner of the Nobel Prize. The protagonist is a private detective named Guy Roland. Only this is merely the name given to him by Hutte, his former employer at the detective agency when he rescued him from total amnesia a dozen years before, and gave him a job. Now Hutte is retiring to Nice, leaving Guy with only one case to investigate: his own.

Yes, it is a totally implausible concept, but Modiano is less interested in the mechanism of Guy's search for self than in what that search will reveal. The detective will follow a number of clues, each time finding somebody who will give him a tiny part of his story, but not the whole of it. The story is implausible too in that Guy gets almost none of the "Why bother me?" kinds of reaction that one might expect. Almost all his informants seem glad to talk with him; they invite him to their homes and give him boxes of souvenirs to go away with. This, even as Guy himself is having to pose as someone else to gain their confidence, trying on one possible role after another, as he gradually works out who he must be. And, as he does so, he begins to have flashes of memory of his own.

Artificial though the mechanism may be, there is none of the surrealism that one associates with many mid-century French writers. Modiano copies the "policier" style perfectly; his noir settings and vivid dialogue could come from the pen of Simenon or any of his followers. "The lights in the bar dimmed, as they do in some dance-halls at the beginning of a slow fox.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Patrick Modiano, as you may recall, was the most recent Nobel Prize winner (2014), though what that means, if anything, is hard to say. It is difficult for me to go into a book whose author is a Nobel winner without half-formed, amorphous ideas about what kind of quality that should represent--for myself (even though I shouldn't), I can't help but think of the Nobel as the acme of awards, and therefore have expectations about any particular example of the author's work that are unrealistic. Basically, I'm expecting to have my socks knocked off--though I doubt I can even describe what that kind of book would look like.

MISSING PERSON is good--I liked it, though my socks were still snuggled against my feet when I was through. However, it is one of those persnickety books--once finished, it hangs around like dream fragments in the morning. Probably the two highest compliments that I can pay it is that I would like to read some more of Mr. Modiano, and that at some point, I'd like to read MISSING PERSON again. Although the two books share no details in common except the nationality of their authors and a certain tone, I'm reminded of another recent Nobel winner, J.M.G. Le Clezio, whose The Prospector also had a dreamy feel to it. Though 'unresolved' may be an accurate way to describe them both, neither felt incomplete, though readers who dislike loose ends might be disappointed.

MISSING PERSON is the story of a man whose quest to regain the memory of his past takes him from one end of Paris to the other, teasing out connections and associations, slowly building a picture of his time in occupied France.
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