"It's a book less on what I did than on what others, mainly my parents, did to me"
Taking in a vast gallery of extraordinary characters from Paris' post-war years, Pedigree is an autobiographical portrait of Post-War Paris and a tumultuous childhood - a childhood replete with insecurity and sorrow that informed the oeuvre of France's Nobel Laureate.
With his sometime-actress mother and shady businessman father barely functioning in any parental role, the young Modiano spent his childhood being packed off to the care of others, or held at a safe distance in a grimy boarding school - which he ran away from several times. His impecunious mother had "a heart of stone"; his womanising father once called the police when his son asked him for money, and later ceased all contact with him.
But for all his parents' indifference, it is the death of his younger brother when Modiano is eleven that cuts deepest, leaving a wound that can never be healed.
Modiano, winner of the 2014 Nobel Prize for literature, recounts, in laconic, clear-eyed prose, his youth and coming of age in post-WWII Paris. Modiano, the son of a cold, hard actress mother and a shady black marketeer father, did not enjoy an idyllic childhood. His parents generally lived apart, while Modiano (whose one sibling, Rudy, died young) grew up in genteel poverty, bouncing from boarding school to boarding school in a haze of deprivation and discipline. Perhaps to compensate, he turned to literature, and he lists the books he was reading at various points The Last of the Mohicans, The Jungle Book, Manon Lescaut, Diary of a Country Priest, and Wuthering Heights as if these formed his character as much as if not more than his largely absent parents. The specter of the Holocaust and WWII hovers over the narrative, especially as Modiano's father was Jewish and had been caught up in the turbulence of occupied Paris (readers of Modiano's Dora Bruder will recognize several incidents from that narrative.) Modiano provides as many questions as explications in this slim but potent volume, as he grapples with the ghosts of the past and the events that shaped the man and writer he would become.