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the Complete Review
the complete review - memoir


Patrick Modiano

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To purchase Pedigree

Title: Pedigree
Author: Patrick Modiano
Genre: Autobiographical
Written: 2005 (Eng. 2015)
Length: 130 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Pedigree - US
Pedigree - UK
Pedigree - Canada
Un pedigree - Canada
Un pedigree - France
Ein Stammbaum - Deutschland
Un pedigree - Italia
Un pedigrí - España
  • A Memoir
  • French title: Un pedigree
  • Translated by Mark Polizzotti

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Our Assessment:

A- : spare, powerful companion-piece to his fiction

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 6/11/2007 Jochen Schimmang
The Independent . 10/9/2015 Boyd Tonkin
NZZ . 16/12/2007 Andreas Isenschmid
The NY Times Book Rev. . 13/12/2015 Kaiama L. Glover
El País . 1/12/2007 Octavi Marti
TLS . 22/7/2005 Henri Astier
Wall St. Journal . 21/8/2015 James Campbell

  From the Reviews:
  • "Sprachlosigkeit, Schweigen, Nebel, der Äther als "Erinnerung und Vergessen": alle Elemente von Modianos Erzählkunst finden sich hier wieder." - Jochen Schimmang, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Matter-of-fact in style and yet somehow as tantalising as his other novels, the terse memoir Pedigree raises questions even as it answers them." - Boyd Tonkin, The Independent

  • "Ein Stammbaum ist ein trostloses Dokument ohne Handlung und Perspektive. Nie erklingt in diesem Stolpern durch die Gegenwart kindlichen Unglücks jener Sehnsuchtston der Erinnerung, der aus allen anderen Geschichten Modianos so beglückend aufsteigt." - Andreas Isenschmid, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "Terse, yet somehow infinitely generous, Pedigree both enacts and accounts for Modiano’s fraught relationship with memory and the past -- his own and those of his country. It outlines the stakes of his literary practice and reveals the specific sufferings this practice entails." - Kaiama L. Glover, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Se trata de un libro especial. (...) En el fondo, se trata de poner en orden las pistas autobiográficas dispersas en otros relatos, de quitarse de encima la inevitable pregunta sobre su pasado y el cómo éste determina su obra." - Octavi Marti, El País

  • "Patrick Modiano’s new book is his most unsettling to date. (...) Modiano’s laconic style is put to striking effect, as it pulls the reader in two opposite directions. On the one hand, the personal nature of the subject matter -- particularly his unfulfilled yearning for parental love -- makes his prose even more poignant. (...) On the other hand, the fact that this book reads so much like a novel by Modiano gives it an unreal feel. (...) Un Pedigree is unsettling because it shuns familiar categories. Neither fiction nor a straightforward autobiography, it is a ground-breaking exploration of the border between the two." - Henri Astier, Times Literary Supplement

  • "There is nothing self-dramatizing -- or even, on the whole, dramatic -- in Mr. Modiano’s relation of this history in Pedigree. Rather, the approach is sketchy and at times despairing (.....) This is indeed a book of scraps, but no less compelling for that." - James Campbell, Wall St. Journal

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Much about Pedigree will strike readers of Patrick Modiano's work as familiar. He has mined the first twenty or so years of his life repeatedly in his fiction, and this memoir covers much of the territory and many of the episodes that have cropped up in any number of his slim novels. The style is similarly laconic, spare -- almost bare.
       As Modiano himself suggests:

I'm writing these pages the way one compiles a report or résumé, as documentation and to have done with a life that wasn't my own. It's just a simple film of deeds and facts. I have nothing to confess or elucidate and I have no interest in soul-searching or self-reflection.
       While covering the actual events he often used in his fiction, Pedigree is no gloss on these; it is a memoir, but it skims and jumps across events, rarely delving into any at any sort of length. Mentions are often hasty, as if he simply wants to get them over with. And Pedigree has a huge cast of characters, Modiano name- (and nickname- and pseudonym-)dropping on and on, beginning with characters from his parents' orbits even before he was too young to know them -- even as he dismisses many of these as: "People on whom you can't dwell at length. Shady travelers at best, passing through a train station concourse without my ever knowing their final destination".
       For all that, Pedigree is also a very emotional dredging up of the past. Even as Modiano largely avoids introspection, the material is highly charged. He tears through the material in this brisk, packed narrative -- explaining, convincingly:
It's not my fault if the words jumble together. I have to move quickly, before I lose heart.
       Modiano had a terrible childhood, his mother and father rarely functioning in any parental role, the boy shoved off to be taken care of by others, or kept at a safe distance in boarding schools. His mother, a sometime actress, is cold and unloving: "beneath the theatricality and fantasy, she had a heart of stone". What glimpses there are of Modiano's relationship with her suggests a limited, terrible one -- but Modiano chooses not to go into it at great length, admitting only that sometimes:
I felt the childish urge to set down in black and white just what she put me through, with her insensitivity and heartlessness. I keep it to myself. And I forgive her. It's all so distant now ...
       It's typical of his approach to memoir-writing, what he shares selective and limited and cautiously considered at a distance.
       Modiano's father is more closely considered. Always involved in dubious businesses, he was a Jewish man who had faced constant danger in Paris under the Occupation -- something that Modiano remains fascinated by, without ever having learnt from his father what those years were like for him:
He never told me what he had felt, deep inside, in Paris during that period. Fear ? The strange sensation of being hunted simply because someone had classified him as a specific type of prey, when he himself didn't really know what he was ?
       Modiano's intense efforts at reconstructing that period and his father's life, here and in his fiction, are clearly part of his deep desire to understand his father. But the older man never allows for any closer sort of relationship to develop; very often, he simply pushes his son away.
       Modiano is here trying to figure out 'where he comes from', as it were: "I'm a dog who pretends to have a pedigree", as he harshly puts it early on -- but there's little pride in even this faux-pedigree. At least there's a sort of richness to the mysteries, however -- and Modiano knows how to indulge in that, as he also demonstrates in his fiction.
       Modiano suggests:
     Apart from my brother, Rudy, his death, I don't believe that anything I'll relate here truly matters to me.
       Readers are not (directly) let in to much: Rudy might matter, but Modiano barely mentions him, and the single paragraph about his death focuses only on Modiano learning of it, and recalling that they had spent the afternoon together just a few days earlier.
       Although a very slim work, Pedigree does skim across a great deal of information, from personal encounters -- Modiano's parents' circles, his first girlfriends, even early mentor Raymond Queneau -- to books that made an impression on him. Modiano refuses (or can't bring himself to) to go into much detail about most things and, especially, people; much here doesn't go much beyond a simple listing of people, books, events. And yet enough is revealed, incidentally, to make for an effective personal portrait.
       Pedigree is not a standard autobiography, even as it is personally revealing (and detail- and event-crammed). It is more a companion-volume to (though not a gloss on) his fiction -- which itself can often seem all of a piece. A relatively recent work, it is probably also best read after at least some of his fiction; it is less introductory overview than retrospective summary.
       For those familiar with and interested in Modiano's fiction, Pedigree is essential reading; those looking for a standard author-(auto)biography of Modiano will have to wait.

- M.A.Orthofer, 18 May 2015

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Pedigree: Reviews: Patrick Modiano: Other books by Patrick Modiano under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Patrick Modiano was born in 1945. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2014.

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© 2015-2021 the complete review

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