The 69-year-old is the 11th French writer to win the prestigious prize.
The Swedish Academy gave the 8 million kronor ($1.1 million or £700,000) prize to Modiano “for the art of memory with which he has evoked the most ungraspable human destinies and uncovered the life-world of the occupation”.
Modiano, whose novel Missing Person won the prestigious Prix Goncourt in 1978, was born in a west Paris suburb two months after the second world war ended in Europe in July 1945.
His father was of Jewish Italian origins and met his Belgian actress mother during the occupation of Paris and his beginnings have strongly influenced his writing.
Jewishness, the Nazi occupation and loss of identity are recurrent themes in his novels, which include 1968’s La Place de l’Etoile – later hailed in Germany as a key post-Holocaust work.
Modiano owes his first big break to a friendship with a friend of his mother, French writer Raymond Queneau, who was first introduced him to the Gallimard publishing house when he was in his early twenties.
Modiano, who lives in Paris, is known to shun media, and rarely accords interviews. In 2012, he won the Austrian State Prize for European Literature.
Peter Englund, permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, said: “Patrick Modiano is a well-known name in France but not anywhere else. He writes children’s books, movie scripts but mainly novels. His themes are memory, identity and time.
“His best known work is called Missing Person. It’s the story about a detective who has lost his memory and his final case is finding out who he really is; he is tracing his own steps through history to find out who he is.”
He added: “They are small books, 130, 150 pages, which are always variations of the same theme – memory, loss, identity, seeking. Those are his important themes: memory, identity, and time.”
Last year’s award went to the Canadian short story writer Alice Munro .
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