Three strong women by Marie NDiaye
Prix Goncourt winner 2009
Translator – John Flethcer
SOURCE – review copy
Marie Ndiaye is one of the most exciting voices in french literature in recent years .She grew up in france with her french mother ,her father is from Senegal ,she meet him a few times in her teens and traveled to Senegal but didn’t get a real connection to africa .Her brother is a well-known french historian .When this won the Prix Goncourt in 2009 according to a french website she was the most read french writer that year .
I ve been looking forward to this book since it won the prix Goncourt three years ago ,I looked at a few french reviews translated into in english and thought this is an important book .So when MacLehose said they had the rights I was waiting eagerly ,but such is my backlog of books to be reviewed I read this in june and now in august getting to it .So Three stong women is what it says on the cover the story of three women .This is Marie Ndiaye as the voice of multicultural france telling the story of three women at different stages and places but all with connections to Africa .Norah is the first story a working women in france she is raised by her mother and then gets a call to visit her father in africa in Senegal (it is easy to see this first story as having quite autobiographical overtones ).Norah finds a different man and situation from what she expect ,her african family is in chaos and at each other .The second story is a wife coming from Senegal to france and adjusting to french life ,Rudy the husband is an ex teacher that you feel is on a downward spiral he is now a kitchen fitter but not a very good one .The marriage is doomed but then something from Rudy’s past crops up just as the wife Fanta seeks a way out .The tone in this story is of forbidding doom rather like some of those great american suburban short story writers that show men on the edge of the abyss and Rudy is one of them .
Just as earlier that morning when Fanta had defied him by something she said (or perhaps by her silence ,he could no longer remember which ) he could feel welling up inside him again that hot ,almost gentle .almost cordial anger which he knew he should resist but which ,too , it felt so nice ,so good ,so comforting not to impede in any way
Rudy is a lonely man who gets a wife he wants to be quiet and proper , but then she stands up for herself a bit
But for me it was the third story that struck me hardest ,a heartbreaking story of Khady a young women forced to leave her native Senegal to travel illegally to france ,this is the start of her troubles as she gets caught up in the sex trade by mistaking a man for being helpful when he wanted her for something else ,she worked for Norah’s uncle in France and her cousin is Fanta the young women that travelled to marry Rudy in the second story .
She remembered her three years of marriage not as a time of serenity ,because the longing ,the terrible desire for a child ,had made each month a frantic climb towards a possible benediction then ,when her period came ,a collapse followed by gloomy despondency before hope returned
Khady remember her brief marriage that forced her to leave her homeland .
Marie Ndiaye has tried to show the varied outcomes for French Africans in france ,It is easy to read in to the first story being her own in some ways ,she did struggle when she returned to Senegal for a visit ,the second story could have parts of her parents story thrown in her mother is a teacher and her parents did meet in France .Now comparing this books to similar English fiction would be something like White teeth or Brick lane that had portrayed asian experience in Britain and how families work there is a lot about family ties in this book and men weak men dominant men and yes these women have to be strong in there own ways .You could also look at books By Andrea Levy about the Caribbean experience in Britain .But none of these books has gone as far as NDiaye ,has in this books description of young women caught up in the sex trade ,This does happen in the UK to people coming to Britain .This book would be worth it just for Khady’s story which I feel is one of the most heart rendering piece of writing I ve ever read ,but to have Norah and Fanta’s stories as well is a true bonus .
Have you read this book ?
Do you have a favourite french female writer ?