CATHERINE CERTITUDE

Patrick Modiano, Author, Jean-Jacques Sempe, Illustrator, William Rodarmor, Translator , illus. by Jean-Jacques Sempé, trans. by William Rodarmor. Godine $17.95 (58p) ISBN 978-0-87923-959-6

In this novella, ensconced in a roomy picture-book format with feather-light illustrations, a dancer reminisces on her childhood in the 10th arrondissement in Paris. Catherine Certitude remembers living with her French father, a dreamer whose storefront "package business" may have been a smuggling operation. Her father tolerates a pedantic partner who once saved him "from the clutches of the law"; an old shipping manifest lists "30 Bouteilles de Rhum." She recalls her American mother's letters from the States ("Sometimes Mama made spelling mistakes"), her ballet lessons with a tragic woman who feigns a Russian accent and her father's humiliation at a society party where he pathetically pretends to be rich ("His brown suit clashed with everyone else's light, summery clothes"). Modiano deals in ambiguity; even Catherine's firm surname is an immigration officer's conception. She also says she and her father escaped the "world as it was" by removing their glasses: "Everything around us became soft and fuzzy. Time stopped. We felt fine." New Yorker illustrator Sempé suggests intangible memories with a wispy ink line and filmy watercolor tints. He pictures Catherine as a slender child with blonde braids, striking comically graceful dance poses and sharing her father's wistful smile. This lovely book suggests the delicacy and strength of an eggshell. It demands a nuanced understanding of the past ("We always stay the same, and the people we have been in the past go on living until the end of time," muses Catherine) and human foibles. Ages 8-up. (Sept.)

Reviewed on: 08/27/2001
Release date: 02/01/2001
Paperback - 978-2-07-063006-6
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