In the Café of Lost Youth
by Patrick Modiano, a new translation from the French by Chris Clarke
An NYRB Classics Original
In the Café of Lost Youth is vintage Patrick Modiano, an absorbing evocation of a particular Paris of the 1950s, shadowy and shady, a secret world of writers, criminals, drinkers, and drifters. The novel, inspired in part by the circle (depicted in the photographs of Ed van der Elsken) of the notorious and charismatic Guy Debord, centers on the enigmatic, waiflike figure of Louki, who catches everyone’s attention even as she eludes possession or comprehension. Through the eyes of four very different narrators, including Louki herself, we contemplate her character and her fate, while Modiano explores the themes of identity, memory, time, and forgetting that are at the heart of his spellbinding and deeply moving art.translation by chris clarke
[M]odiano at his height. In 1950s Paris, a young woman nicknamed Louki haunts a café called the Condé, casting a decided allure yet remaining mysterious and unknowable. A young hanger-on, the husband she abandoned, the detective searching for her—all try to grasp her and fail. Not unexpectedly, Modiano withholds her secret life to the end.
—Library Journal, starred review
In the Café of Lost Youth is a kind of suspense story. It is a story about the many facets of a single woman but also, unquestionably, a story about the multiple worlds within Paris, a city that, as much as any individual human being, remains essentially unknowable. It casts a near hypnotic spell.
—Douglas Kennedy, L’Express
Every area described is also imbued with layers of emotion. . . . Readers are left haunted by the cityscape Modiano paints.
—Henri Astier, The Times Literary Supplement
Modiano’s books develop a different tone, one more mellow and melancholic, somewhere between sepia and film noir, more akin to the photographs of Henri Cartier-Bresson than to the work of other writers.
—Rachel Donadio, The New York Times
[An] edge of mystery, of indirection, motivates [Modiano’s work] like an animating force...a vivid air of the conditional, which is, of course, the whole idea. For Modiano, memory, experience are fluid, fleeting, and even the stories we tell ourselves are subject to change. Our lives flicker past us like the afterimage of a photo; eventually, our attempts at constancy must fall away.
—David Ulin, Los Angeles Times
Modiano is a pure original. He has transformed the novel into a laboratory for producing atmospheres, not situations—where everything must be inferred and nothing can be proved.
—Adam Thirwell, The Guardian
Like W.G. Sebald, another European writer haunted by memory and by the history that took place just before he was born, Modiano combines a detective’s curiosity with an elegist’s melancholy.
—Adam Kirsch, The New Republic
The genius of Modiano's work lies in how it straddles the very real moral chaos of post-Vichy France and his creation of an idiosyncratic milieu. Patrick Modiano goes beyond the checklist accuracies of historical fiction, fashioning a lush fever dream filled with glamor, mystery, and despair.
—Karl Wolff, New York Journal of Books
[C]arefully, artfully constructed...[an] impressive, accomplished work.
—M.A. Orthofer, Complete Review