Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Catherine Certitude by Patrick Modiano

I don't pay a lot of attention to the Nobel Prize in Literature but a reference in the New York Times to Mr. Modiano's children’s books caught my eye. It's not often that the Nobel and children’s books appear in the same paragraph. When the VBPL catalog showed just one children's book by Modiano I decided to give myself a short taste of the author to see why he deserved a Nobel.

Catherine Certitude illustrates the prize committee's reference to “the art of memory,” being told as an adult's memory of childhood in Paris with her father after her mother, a dancer, returns to New York. They share quiet irritation with his pompous partner and pleasure in daily routines. She wonders about his mysterious shipping business. He enrolls her in ballet where she befriends a rich girl who invites them to her home. There we see Catherine's father as a scheming social climber. Nothing comes of his efforts and not too long after, father and daughter move to New York to reunite the family.

Despite the picture book format, this story really depends on an older reader's ability to see through what the non-judgmental child observes. The adults are all quirky characters, more impressed with themselves than is wise. Other winners of the Nobel Prize in Literature that I'm aware sometimes wrote for children are Isaac Bashevis Singer, Pearl Buck, Maurice Maeterlinck, and Rudyard Kipling

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