France's Patrick Modiano won the Nobel Literature Prize on Thursday for his enigmatic novels rooted in the trauma of the Nazi occupation and his own loveless childhood.
One of France's most celebrated writers, the 69-year-old father of two, known for his shy, gentle manner, greeted news of his award as a bit unreal and said it felt as if it was happening to someone else.
The Swedish Academy said it wanted to celebrate Modiano's art of memory in capturing the lives of ordinary French people living under the Nazis during World War II.
He's a kind of Marcel Proust for our time, said Peter Englund, permanent secretary of the academy, praising a body of works that speak to each other, that echo off each other, that are about memory, identity and seeking.
They are small books... always variations on the same theme: about memory, about loss, about identity, about seeking.
Speaking in Paris, hours after the prize was announced; the writer told reporters he was having difficulty taking in the news.
It seems a bit unreal to me to be compared to other people I admired, he said, referring to other French authors such as Albert Camus who won the Nobel in 1957.
The writer, who dedicated his win to his Swedish grandson, added: It's like experiencing a sort of disconnection, as if there's another person called me.
French President Francois Hollande paid tribute to his considerable body of work which explores the subtleties of memory and the complexity of identity.
Prime Minister Manuel Valls described Modiano as a writer of succinct, incisive literature... who is without doubt one of the greatest writers of recent years”.
The award makes him the 15th French author to win the Nobel, which carries a prize sum of eight million Swedish kronor (878,000 Euros). US authors have won on 12 occasions.
Modiano has called the occupation of France during World War II the soil I grew up in.
His father Alberto Modiano was an Italian Jew with ties to the Gestapo -- and to organized crime gangs -- who was spared from wearing the yellow star. His mother was a Flemish actress named Louisa Colpeyn. The pair met in Paris in 1942.
Their son Patrick was born three years later, at the end of the war, in the Paris suburb of Boulogne, into a family whose complex background set the scene for a lifelong obsession with that dark period in history.
Published when he was just 22, in 1967, his first novel La place de l'etoile (The Star's Place), was a direct reference to that mark of shame inflicted on the Jews.
It was the first of many recreations of wartime Paris stuffed with meticulous detail -- street names, cafes, metro stations and real-life crime cases of the day -- earning him the moniker of literary archaeologist.
His novels are also full of enigma, and winks to the reader: a critic once counted five characters from five different novels who all shared the same telephone number.
Modiano's work is also haunted by his cold upbringing -- once leading him to joke that his mother's heart was so cold her lap-sized pet chow-chow leapt from a window to its death.