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

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Editorial Reviews

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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
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved


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: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #16,175 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

68 of 69 people found the following review helpful By Claude Forthomme (Nougat) on October 12, 2014
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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87 of 97 people found the following review helpful By Ronald Haak on May 4, 2014
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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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Roger Brunyate TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 17, 2014
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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30 of 37 people found the following review helpful By David in Texas on April 26, 2013
Format: Paperback
Europe after six years of brutal war had people dead, missing, and damaged. I picture Hutte's detective services using directories, yearbooks, census, and memories to locate the missing. Hutte has taken in Guy, a stray person that was acquired from the lost and missing of WW II. Guy has no memory of his past and starts the search with just an old photo and a possible name. I would read a couple of chapters, note the streets and bridges in Paris, and research them on Google Earth giving life to the scene. I could feel empathy for Guy during his interviews...questions unanswered, questions unasked, memories unclear..........
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Robin Friedman HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 4, 2015
Format: Paperback
Until recently, the American genres of noir and detective fiction have enjoyed a higher literary esteem in France than in their native United States. This situation has changed with the publication of some of the best noir and crime writing in the Library of America series. Patrick Modiano's 1978 novel, "Missing Person" shows the strong influence of American genre writing. This book was the first I have read by Modiano. The novel received little notice in the United States until Modiano won the 2014 Nobel Prize for Literature.

Noir and detective genres pervade Modiano's book in style, character, and theme. The spare, clear writing approaches the "hard boiled" prose of American genres. The book is short and is probably best first read in a single extended sitting if possible. The book is artfully arranged with shifts in time and some changes in voices. The chapters range from a single sentence or two to several pages, giving the book a forward, varied flow. The book's many characters are shadowy and mysterious and each of them carries guilt and a past. The book has an urban setting characteristic of noir with scenes in bars, streets, many small shady businesses, abandoned schools and garages, old dingy apartments, train stations, and more. Much of the action takes places at night and in shadows. I found it easy to visualize "Missing Person" as a noir film.

The book is set in Paris in the mid-1960s and back to the Paris of the German occupation during WW II. The primary character is a man who goes by the name of Guy Roland. As the story opens, Roland has worked for a private investigator, Hutte, for eight years when Hutte is about to retire and leave Paris.
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