In search of a missing girl | Daily News


In search of a missing girl

Truth is stranger than fiction, goes an age-old saying. But the truth could be understood in its manifold standpoints, perhaps through various other creative interpretations. As such, the most sensible interpretation of a particular event could be an immortal piece of work. I felt that such a narrative reached my hands and captured my eyes on reading Patrick Modiano’s Dora Bruder, translated from the French original to English by Joanna Kilmartin, and published by the University of California Press in 1999. This work revolves around the search for a missing young girl, whose name becomes synonymous with that of the narrator cum writer Patrick Modiano.

As the narrative is based on an actual event, when he unearths an account in a personal column in the French newspaper Paris Soir as far back as 1941. The account is given by the parents of Dora, whose names too are included. The most striking point is that Dora is said to be missing from her Catholic boarding school.

The narrative packed with actual details in the quest. On the part of the writer, Modiano, makes the reader feels that at time writer is more a sensitive investigative reporter who leaves no stone unturned in the search. In the process, the writer hunts the most intimate details pertaining to the missing young girl in the capacity of a historian and a social researcher.

Official records documented are unearthed from various offices. People linked to the search are constantly met at a series of encounters in the form of dialogue ensues. Modiano brings out lost records, the links that existed in Nazi Germany and the Few French.

As a reader, I felt that Modiano goes back to a period of 10 years during which he finds himself entirely dedicated to a worthy cause. The reader comes to know quite a lot of details pertaining to Nazi occupation in Paris and the inner intentions embedded.

The most sensitive aspect of the narrative is the narrator Modiano’s attempt to identify himself with the unseen happenings he has before him culled from the past. He, at a particular moment, tries to live in them and take the reader on to his side by way of a hidden empathy. As such, the narrative becomes more of an interpersonal conversation than a detached expression.

The short episodic chapters are unnumbered.

This, I felt, is done purposely in order to create a degree of intimacy and a rapport with the reader. He, as the narrator, shifts attention to that of a spectator of events in the past, imagining some happing as the investigations move off. One good example goes follows:

“Father and daughter departed Draney on September 18 in company with thousands of other men and women, on a carriage for Auschwitz.”

Then again, he combines several other series of events of narrating the following lines:

“Dora’s mother Cecile Bruder was arrested on 16 July 1942, the day of the great roundup, and interned at Darney. She was reunited with her husband for a few days while their daughter was at Tourelles. Dorothea, because she was born in Budapest and the authorities, had not yet received orders to deport Hungarian Jews, Cecile Bruder was released from Draney on July 25.”

In this manner, Modiano links and interlinks the narrative in several unforeseen techniques of narratology. He creates and recreates scenes from the historic past making the age of the narrative technique to depict a global orientation, which at times is spiritual, at times esoteric and remains a deep sense of suspense as to the human calamities.

Turning the pages of each chapter, the reader gets the feeling that the search for the missing does not go futile. The attempt on the part of Modiano in the process makes the reader involved in the search. Perhaps the attempt transcends the content and the barriers of most other works that encompass the human disaster caused due to Nazism. I am not too sure whether this kind of creative work could be cited as a historical work. No, it transcends these barriers as well. The writer makes himself identify himself with the historical factors that he finds from various sources.

Here he tries to visualise the profiles of their characters he encounters by way of entering himself into their personal lives. While Dora Bruder has been translated into 20 languages Modiano was awarded the 2014 Nobel award for Literature.

One more striking point is that the narrative includes a number of maps, illustrations and actual photographs by way of providing a wider scope for embracing the content. This goes beyond the normal concept of willing suspense of disbelief what is lost in the past could be found if a person living in the present is vigilant seems to be the central intention of the writer Modiano. With the intention, he goes to places, meets people concerned, studies and interprets documentary evidence on the intended search. One fascinating factor is that Modiano tries to amalgamate his own childhood and youth experiences like the family learning with those to Dora, her father and her mother. He feels that his own mother has similar leanings that are similar to those of Dora’s. Same with the father.

On reading Dora Bruder, undoubtedly a reader is reminded of the diary of Anne Frank. But as a reader of Anne’s diary, I found that the events as recorded on Dora by Modiano surpassed the general barriers of fear and pity. As Dora does not appear as a live character, Modiano attempts to recreate the same by way of other living factors. In that direction, the character of Dora is shown as a fearless young girl who may have been a victim of the torture camp. But that is left for re-investigation on the part of Modiano. The search lasts for about ten years. But from chapter one to two, the search goes on Even after leaving the work as a reader, I felt that the search is ongoing. This is a rare occurrence in the reading exercise. It is the search for one’s own identity.

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