28 Paradises is a rare book: it reveals not only the individual talents of the authors, Modiano and Zehrfuss, but also the depth of the couple’s creative union. Sensitively translated into English for the first time by Damion Searls, 28 Paradises captures the exquisite sadness of waking from a beautiful dream. There are twenty-eight dreams in this book, or perhaps one dream in twenty-eight parts-visions of paradise imagined by Zehrfuss during a time of deep sadness. Captured first in Zehrfuss’s brightly colored gouaches, each paradise was then refashioned as a poem by Modiano.
Zehrfuss’s paintings are Edens in miniature, and rather than describe them outright, Modiano dreams himself into these reveries in quiet, understated verse. The reader enters this shared realm in an experience less like paging through a book and more like slipping into a shared world. These paradises are wishes for moments when a painting, or a poem, or a lover-perhaps they are not so different-relieves the loneliness of being human. As Modiano writes with a touch of wistfulness, “The Lilliputian painted her paradises / And I / Next to her / Wrote a poem.” A pure example of ekphrastic writing-poetry inspired by paintings- this book shows how writing and visual art can together create a unique emotional experience.
First published by Editions de l’Olivier/ Le Seuil in 2005