Three strong women by Marie NDiaye

Three strong women by Marie NDiaye

French fiction

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 ?


19 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Violet
    Aug 29, 2012 @ 12:15:01

    I’m really interested in the experience of people from former French colonies who migrate to France. This sounds right up my street. The African women migrants I have met in Australia are all really strong people. They have been through real suffering and seem to be the ones who are forced out into the community here, through their children’s schooling and through contact with health workers, etc. I hope I can find a copy of this book because it sounds very enticing.


  2. Iris
    Aug 29, 2012 @ 12:34:00

    I struggled with the second story very much. And because it was the longest one in the collection I felt it somehow overshadowed my overall enjoyment of the book. But the first story was interesting enough, and lovely in its own way. I agree though, it was the third story that hit me the hardest, and that I find myself remembering many many weeks after reading it. I’m convinced we need more fiction (or at least I need to read more fiction and become more aware of it) that dares to portray human immigration and the unfairness of western privilege that we so often overlook. I actually felt incredibly guilty just knowing that I so often (albeit unconsciously) ignore what is going on in the wider world while we’re bundled up so comfortably. Reading that third story had such an impact on me. Still.


    • winstonsdad
      Oct 16, 2012 @ 18:26:01

      I think the second story was the most personel of them thou ,the third is a story every one should read I think just get the impact of what can happen to people ,all the best stu


  3. Parrish
    Aug 29, 2012 @ 19:04:53

    Having recently read a book of poetry that dealt with the idea of people who are outsiders within the culture they now exist in, making this extremely interesting.


  4. Caroline
    Sep 01, 2012 @ 17:35:11

    I’ve got a few of her books but didn’t get to them yet. Since I lived in Paris for quite a long time I met many people from former colonies or the departments which still belong to France in the Caribbean. I’ve also read a lot of Haitian literature, hardly any of it translated and the life of these immigrants is incredibly hard. Even the life of students and others who have it a bit better.


  5. Chinoiseries
    Sep 05, 2012 @ 09:19:46

    Stu, I haven’t read that many coloured authors, come to think of it. Marie Ndiaye is not a known name to me, but I’ll definitely try one of her books soon. Thanks for putting her in the spotlight.


  6. Emily Jane
    Sep 12, 2012 @ 23:57:55

    I don’t know many French women writers, honestly, but this one sounds interesting to me so thanks for the introduction!


  7. Claire 'Word by Word'
    Oct 17, 2012 @ 18:23:28

    Great summary, this is a must read and an important voice and so great that she is being so widely read.

    I teach English to French adults and have a new student who is a voracious reader and love getting her recommendations, she was reading Yasmina Khadra, a well known Algerian writer – there is such a lot of translated fiction available in French, they truly are very international in their reading of fiction.


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  14. N@ncy
    Apr 06, 2016 @ 12:05:15

    Always interested in a new French writer….thanks for the tip!


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August 2012


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