J.P. Smith at The Millions:
As in so many of his novels, Modiano’s obsession with places, names, phone numbers, and those mysterious telephonic zones of intermediacy where people can dial a number and exchange information in a kind of background haze, frail voices trying to connect, reappear in the author’s 2012 novel, L’Herbe des nuits, translated by Mark Polizzotti as The Black Notebook and published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. The narrator, Jean, populates the streets of Paris with those who have walked it long before: the 19th-century writers Gérard de Nerval, Tristan Corbière, and Charles Baudelaire, whose mistress, Jeanne Duval, floats wraithlike through the pages, as though saying that the past never truly leaves its roots, that the ghosts of the people who once walked these streets linger on forever. Unlike in his other novels, the events here come much later than the dark years of the Occupation which have provided him with his richest harvest: the ’60s, with l’Affaire Ben Barka.
Mehdi Ben Barka was a Moroccan politician, leader of the left-wing National Union of Popular Forces, active in various anti-colonial movements, and considered dangerous both by France and the United States. After being exiled, he settled in Paris, vanishing in 1965. It was said that he had been kidnapped by, variously, French officers, the CIA or by a Moroccan government minister, interrogated, tortured, his body dissolved in a vat of acid. His remains have never been found.