Gentle, thoughtful reflections on the situation of Jews in Paris during the German occupation, through the patient and persistent research of the scant surviving documents, plus the testimony of one surviving cousin, of a 16-year old, French-born daughter of Austrian and Hungarian Jewish immigrants, in the months before she was seized by the Gestapo in 1942 and shipped with others like her to Auschwitz. Modiano’s imagining of what might have been going through her head when she fled the Catholic school, which limited her by its strict discipline but also protected her from the Gestapo, and her refusal to wear the required (by German ordinance) yellow star, is another of Modiano’s literary efforts to come to terms with his own family history. He was born in 1945, the year Paris was liberated, so he did not personally experience the horrors of the occupation, but — as he tells us —his father was picked up in a Gestapo raid to be sent to Auschwitz, but in some manner his son has never been able to clarify, escaped. Albert Modiano, born to Jewish parents in Salonica, was a clever operator in the black market and other shady enterprises, with lots of contacts, and managed to survive the occupation and even enrich himself, using a pseudonym and, of course, no yellow star. But the son had no contact with him after his adolescence and never satisfied his hunger to understand his father’s complex and occasionally hostile actions.
The descriptions of the desperations of youth and tensions with parents, mixing Patrick Modiano’s memories of his own rebellions in 1961 or so, and his conjectures about Dora Bruder in 1941-42, are evoked and made vivid by his descriptions of their settings: the streets, the interiors, the gardens, the sterile hallways of hostile institutions. For me, it has added further shadows to my already multilayered impressions of Paris.