‘Dora Bruder’ by Patrick Modiano – In Search of Dora Bruder

‘Dora Bruder’ by Patrick Modiano  (1997) – 119 pages   Translated by Joanna Kilmartin   Grade: B+


If ‘Dora Bruder’ were a film, it would be a documentary.

In ‘Dora Bruder’, Patrick Modiano traces the life of an actual young Jewish victim of the Nazi concentration camps, a fifteen year-old girl.  By documenting as much information in detail as he could find, Modiano makes the story of what happened to Dora Bruder more real and even more horrible.

Modiano describes several photographs that were taken of Dora Bruder and her family in Paris. The version of the book I read reprinted two of the photographs, and these photographs serve to give a personality to Dora Bruder and her family.

The language in ‘Dora Bruder’ is clipped and laconic with no extraneous words of description, because it is important for Modiano not to go beyond the limited factual information he has.  Nothing here is invented.

Many key documents relating to Dora Bruder are missing, probably destroyed by officials trying to cover up their crimes.  In these cases Modiano relies on actual documents which are similar but relate to other individuals.

Most of the German officials as well as some of the French officials overseeing the deportations in Paris were shot in 1945 during the liberation of Paris.

There is one case mentioned in this book of a suspected Jew being fired at in Paris for not wearing the required Jewish insignia, a yellow star, which the Nazis had required.  This is only another brutal example of these outlaw Nazis.

As literature, there is just not enough known about Dora Bruder to write a compelling story about her life.  This Modiano does not attempt to do.  All we have left of Dora are a few documents with her name on it and a few pictures.

At one point Dora Bruder ran away from school.  There is just not enough factual information to determine why she ran away, where she lived during that time, or how she survived.  Modiano states some of his conjectures about this time.

I think Patrick Modiano is doing something of the utmost importance here, securing the documentation of these atrocities in a somewhat permanent form.  Otherwise the entire world will forget, and we will be subject to lies about those involved and about what really happened.

12 responses to this post.

  1. I’ve had Suspended Sentences on my shelf for a few weeks now. I can’t wait! Thanks for sharing! If you’re ever interested in some other awesome book reviews and musings, be sure to follow! Thanks!


  2. I’d like to read something by Patrick Modiano, and it’ll probably come down to a choice between Dora Bruder and Suspended Sentences (in the first instance). Dora Bruder/The Search Warrant sounds deeply moving…


    • Hi Jacqui,
      Don’t forget ‘Honeymoon’ which the Complete Review gives an A rating. ‘Dora Bruder’ is written more in a non-fiction documentary style.


  3. I’ve noticed that a bunch of Modiano’s are now out in English. This sounds good, but I’d rather start with his fiction. Are you planning to read more?


  4. Hi, thanks for the review. I just got hold of a copy of this and am really looking forward to reading it. Having (like so many others) never heard of Modiano before he won the Nobel, I’ve read Suspended Sentences and Night Watch this year and am absolutely smitten with his work. I blogged about Night Watch here: http://goodbyetoallthis.com/review-night-watch-patrick-modiano/
    I’m finding his style quite addictive; when I finish one of his stories I just want to dive right into the next.


    • Hi Audrey,
      It is always special when a new writer seems to be speaking directly to us. My favorite Nobel prize winners are probably Patrick White and Jose Saramago. I try to read all of the Nobel prize winners as they are announced


      • I’ve got a Saramago in the ‘to read’ pile but haven’t read any of his as yet so I’ll be looking forward to that. I’ve really only started reading much literature in translation over the last year and it’s opened up whole new worlds, so I suspect I’ll be paying more attention to the Nobel going forward.


        • Hi Audrey,
          Although occasionally the Nobel Literature prize gets it wrong (The best example is probably Dario Fo), it usually brings someone who is exceptional to world attention.


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