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Media advisory: Expert in contemporary French novels available to discuss Nobel Prize winner

Thursday, October 09, 2014

LAWRENCE – A University of Kansas French scholar can talk about the work and legacy of Patrick Modiano, winner of the 2014 Nobel Prize in literature.

The Nobel committee recognized Modiano’s work “for the art of memory with which he has evoked the most ungraspable human destinies and uncovered the life-world of the occupation.” Born in France in 1945, Modiano has spent much of his literary career focused on the Nazi occupation of France in World War II.

Van Kelly, an associate professor of French who specializes in contemporary French literature and film, has used Modiano’s novels in his undergraduate and graduate classes since 1992. Similar to Modiano’s work, Kelly’s research explores ideas around liberation and resistance, human rights, immigration, social and political thought, utopias and dystopias, and urban space.

Modiano and J.-M. G. Le Clézio, the 2008 winner of the Nobel Prize in literature, are two of the dominant voices in the modern French novel, Kelly said.

“These two great writers address the moral, humanistic issues of self-identification and self-definition in the modern world,” Kelly said.

Modiano was among the group of French artists in the 1960s and 1970s that began exploring the effects of racism and deportation during the Nazi occupation. Two Modiano books that cover this topic and are favorites of Kelly are “Dora Bruder” and “Honeymoon.”

“Dora Bruder” was inspired by a real-life personal ad in a 1941 Paris newspaper paid by parents searching for their 15-year-old Jewish daughter, who had run away from a Catholic boarding school. “Honeymoon” is the fictionalized version of that story and features Ingrid, a young woman who decides not to cross over a line of German soldiers and French policemen to reunite with her father, a decision that haunts her for the rest of her life.  

“Modiano explores how history can make individual lives very fragile,” Kelly said. “People who aren’t directly involved in politics or public roles have to deal with these issues of history. And oftentimes it will affect them in very difficult ways.”

Kelly notes that Modiano continues to publish novels on a regular basis.

To schedule an interview with Kelly, contact Christine Metz Howard at 785-864-8852 or cmetzhoward@ku.edu


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