Patrick Modiano’s The Search Warrant: missing, a young girl, the sort who left few traces

Patrick Modiano’s The Search Warrant: missing, a young girl, the sort who left few traces

They are the sort of people who leave few traces. Virtually anonymous. Inseparable from those Paris streets, those suburban landscapes …

Hearing the news that Bob Dylan had been awarded this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature, I thought it was about time that I investigated last year’s winner, Patrick Modiano. Like many on this side of the Channel, the French novelist’s name was unknown to me. Now my literary friend Dave reckoned I should read his 1997 novella Dora Bruder, published here as The Search Warrant. It proved to be an excellent recommendation: Modiano’s spare and finely-written excavation of memory is a haunting addition to the literature of the Holocaust and one that is unique, being neither Holocaust memoir nor historical fiction but a skilful reconstruction of a life and a moving reflection on his country’s amnesia surrounding collaboration and the fate of French Jews during the Occupation. Continue reading “Patrick Modiano’s The Search Warrant: missing, a young girl, the sort who left few traces”

The Bataclan: Your tears scattered round the world

The Bataclan: Your tears scattered round the world

The love you lost with her skin so fair
Is free with the wind in her butterscotch hair
Her green eyes blew goodbyes
With her head in her hands
and your kiss on the lips of another
Dream Brother with your tears scattered round the world.

Jeff Buckley, recorded live at the Bataclan, Paris, February 11, 1995

I posted this as a response to reading of the horrific scenes at The Bataclan on Friday night because as soon as I heard of the terrorist attack there I remembered that in my music collection I have an EP of tracks recorded there on 11 February 1995 during a stunning performance by Jeff Buckley acclaimed by a rapturous audience. It’s always had a special meaning for me because I saw him perform a very similar set at the Luxor in Cologne just over a week later, on 20 February 1995.

Now I discover that Aaron Goldstein has posted a similar response to mine on The American Spectator Spectacle blog. This is what he wrote: Continue reading “The Bataclan: Your tears scattered round the world”

The words of Martin Luther King, from Jeremy Corbyn’s Twitter feed. What more is there to say this morning?

MLK and Paris

To face history is to face the tragic. Which is why many prefer to look away. To decide to engage oneself in History requires, even when the decision is a desperate one, hope.
John Berger, Bento’s Sketchbook

Reading Charlie Hebdo

Reading Charlie Hebdo

Like most during these last, terrible days I have been transfixed by the unfolding drama around the Charlie Hebdo massacre – horrified by events and fearful of what may be to come in Europe. This afternoon, however, the images of 1.5 million marching in Paris are breathtaking and heartening. And nearly a million more have joined rallies in towns across France. Continue reading “Reading Charlie Hebdo”

Je Suis Charlie parce que l’amour plus fort que la haine

Je Suis Charlie parce que l’amour plus fort que la haine

L'Amour lus fort que la Haine

At first, there are no words. Then Salman Rushdie – a man whose opinion carries more weight than most in the present circumstances says this:

Religion, a medieval form of unreason, when combined with modern weaponry becomes a real threat to our freedoms. This religious totalitarianism has caused a deadly mutation in the heart of Islam and we see the tragic consequences in Paris today.

I stand with Charlie Hebdo, as we all must, to defend the art of satire, which has always been a force for liberty and against tyranny, dishonesty and stupidity.

‘Respect for religion’ has become a code phrase meaning ‘fear of religion’. Religions, like all other ideas, deserve criticism, satire, and, yes, our fearless disrespect.

Continue reading “Je Suis Charlie parce que l’amour plus fort que la haine”

The Hare With Amber Eyes

The Hare With Amber Eyes

Objects have always been carried, sold, bartered, stolen, retrieved and lost.  People have always given gifts.  It is how you tell their stories that matters.

At primary school, I remember, we would be set a writing exercise such as, a day in the life of a penny.  People would say of  inanimate things that had been around for longer than a child could conceive of: ‘the stories they could tell!’  The Hare With Amber Eyes is a magnificent  work of  memory recovery – a family memoir, but also a voyage into the dark recesses of the twentieth century. Continue reading “The Hare With Amber Eyes”

Departure of Fruit and Vegetables

Raymond Mason’s work, The departure of the fruit and vegetables from the heart of Paris on the 28th February 1969,  sits in a nook of Saint-Eustache Church, bordering the location of Paris’s departed central food market, Les Halles. The departure of the market tore the soul out of this district of Paris. Many social problems, drugs, disease, and poverty followed. St. Eustache has been a place of refuge since.

In 1968 Mason heard of the plan to close Les Halles, Paris’s central market. Long drawn to the commotion and sensuous beauty of markets, Mason decided to commemorate the passing of an irreplaceable part of Parisian history. He saw Les Halles as a place of ‘joy’ where the ‘wonders of nature’ were displayed. Now a ‘paradise lost’, its closure symbolised the departure of the ‘man of the Middle Ages …We will never see a face like his again. We will never again see his kind.’

John Berger has an essay about the sculpture in The Shape of a Pocket, which I am reading at the moment. Berger writes:

Look at the guy with a cauliflower and his mate with a Swiss chard under his arm, and the bloke with a big nose holding up a case of oranges as if it were a chalice, and the black kid with a cabbage, and the woman with a pom-pom hat and cherry lips who is carrying a case of Starking apples which press against her bosom, and the man pulling a wagon, and the tomato which has squashed.  I look and say to myself: I’ve seen saints in churches and Madonnas and martyrs and the saved a nd the damned, but I’ve never seen people straight off the street except when they’re sitting in pews, and here they have a chapel to themselves and have been made sacred! (They themselves wouldn’t believe it.  Pull the other leg, it’s got bells on it, they’d say.) Made sacred not by the company of the surrounding saints, nor by the buried generals in their sarcophagi, but by the tenderness of an artist who rememebered them with love, and re-created them indefatigably.

Berger acclaims three masterpieces by Mason: Departure of Fruit and Vegetables, A Tragedy in the North – inspired by a mining disaster in Lievin – and The Grape Pickers at Vezelay.

A Tragedy in the North: Winter, Rain and Tears


Raymond Mason grew up in Birmingham. In June 1991 his work Forward! was unveiled in the centre of the new Centenary Square in Birmingham. Cast in fiberglass resin, it represented the march of Birmingham from its industrial past into the future. It was a work of art that repaid close attention. Figures included Joseph Chamberlain with his monocle and Josiah Mason, founder of the University, with an armful of books. The Lady of the Arts, from the city’s coat of arms, blew a kiss to the past, while an actress curtsied to the Repertory Theatre. The formula on the shoulder of the leading figure referred to DNA, representing the continuing advance of scientific discovery. The Birmingham-educated scientist, Maurice Wilkins, shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1962 for work on DNA. At lunchtime on 17 April 2003, the statue was irreparably damaged by fire. It was later removed.