Michael McLoughlin's Blog - Posts Tagged "writing"

Dora BruderDora Bruder by Patrick Modiano

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Very touching, moving, haunting; brings the plight of Jews in France during WWII, particularly the children, to life by personifying it. It is not a novel but a true story, not only of Dora Bruder but of Modiano's investigation into her fate. It also, terribly, makes evident the evil of that time. Walking the streets of Paris, my favorite city, will never be the same again. In that regard, it has a particular resonance with me.

While in Paris researching "Last Stop, Paris: the assassination of Mario Bachand and the death of the FLQ", I stayed in the 18th arrondissement, a short distance from 41 Rue Ornano, in the 18th Arrondissement, where, in a fifth-floor apartment, Dora Bruder and her parents had lived. I also visited 141 Boulevard Mortier, in the 20th Arrondissement, headquarters of SDECE (Service de Documentation et de contre-espionage)now DGSE (Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure), hidden behind the high, forbidding, stone walls of what was once the Tourelles military caserne, where on the 19th of June, 1942, along with five other girls, Dora Bruder was taken in a Black Maria of the Paris police.

Up to 300 Jewish women and children were held at a time, picked up for infraction of regulations that had been enacted by the Vichy regime to please their German occupiers and as expression of deep-rooted antisemitism: not wearing the yellow star, or wearing it upside down; marrying or proposing to marry a non-Jew; practising a forbidden profession; being on the street after the curfew of 8:00 pm set for them were only some of the hideous constraints. Also taken to Tourelles were non-Jewish French women who braved the terror to wear the yellow star, hide Jews or took other measures of assistance and were picked as a consequence up by Paris police. On the 13th of August, the 300 women and children detained at Tourelles were transferred to Drancy, a housing estate north of Paris, before being transported to Germany, Auschwitz and death.

From a stylistic point of view, I find Modiano's merging of past and present to be compelling. I have not yet worked out how exactly he does this, which will take some rereading. It is not,I think, simply by making past events so hauntingly vivid that they are experienced by the reader as present. There are other, more subtle, devices. He merges his childhood - as a child he and his mother would travel by bus to Port Clignancourt, near Rue Ornano, where they would get off to walk across the square to the St. Ouen flea-market - with that of Dora, twenty-someyears earlier, such that past and present merge. I see a similarity to the approach of W. G. Sebald, for example, in "On the Natural History of Destruction", "The Rings of Saturn" and "The Emigrants". The whole matter of time in writing is, I find, central to the organization and meaning of a text. This matter of time inclines me to re-read the works of Antonio Lobo Antunes, particularly "An Explanation of the Birds", in which the author moves seamlessly from time period to time period, and in which an entire lifetime is revealed in one, final, moment.

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Published on December 27, 2011 15:58 • 198 views • Tags: dora-bruder, mario-bachand, patrick-modiano, sdece, writing