Martin Winckler

Portrait Martin Winckler
© Hartwig Klappert

Martin Winckler was born as Marc Zaffran in Algeria in 1955. His family moved first to Israel, and then to France in 1962. He passed his state exams in 1982 at the medical faculty in Tours. In 1983 he opened his own practice and performed abortions in a clinic.

For his first short stories in 1987 he chose a pseudonym which referenced a character in Georges Perec’s opus magnum »La Vie mode d’emploi« (tr. »Life A User’s Manual« which had exerted a great influence on him. In 1989 his debut novel »La Vacation« appeared, its main character Bruno Sachs was also the protagonist of numerous later works which reflected Winckler’s medical career. Along with novels he has also written autobiographical texts, numerous medical publications as well as essay collections on patient-doctor relationship, TV series and popular icons such as movie characters and comic-book superheroes. He achieved wide renown with his bestseller »La Maladie de Sachs« (1998; En. »The Case of Dr Sachs«), which was filmed in 1999 by Michel Deville. Winckler’s most recent novel »En Souvenir d’André« (2012; tr. »In Memory of André«) is subtly prefaced with a writer’s credo from Kurt Vonnegut: »Start as close to the end as possible.« He complies with this guiding literary principle in short, dense chapters; at the content level, in any case, the novel assumes a deeper meaning. The narrator, clinician Emmanuel Zacks, has a flawless memory: a disposition arising from »coincidences in the genes and embryonic development«, as he explains at the beginning. Along with this remarkable gift he exhibits great sensitivity with his patients, whose suffering never leaves him unmoved and which he is unable to appease with false reassurance. He helps the dying with their fear of death and allows them a self-determined, dignified passing. Soon he begins to write down, word for word, the stories – long-held secrets, tragic love affairs – told by his patients, including his friend and foster father André. Finally Zacks, himself consumed by an incurable disease, puts his own life down on paper. Winckler’s knowledgeable rumination on the complex and controversial subject of euthanasia is just as eloquent a plea for the act of recounting, in so far as the related life outlasts death to become a tangible memory.

Along with writing his own books Martin Wickler has also translated works by David Markson, Nicholson Baker, Harry Mathews and Patrick Macnee into French. He lives in Quebec.