Hopes Spring Eternal: ‘Three Strong Women,’ by Marie NDiaye

Hopes Spring Eternal: ‘Three Strong Women,’ by Marie NDiaye

The New York Times

Fernanda Eberstadt

Americans have a curiously limited vision of France. We may be wild about Chanel sunglasses, Vuitton handbags, Champagne or Paris in the spring, but when it comes to the kinds of contemporary French culture that can’t be bought in a duty-free shop, most of us draw a blank. Luckily, this veil of benign ignorance is being lifted as publishers in the United States introduce American readers to a new generation of hugely gifted French writers who are reworking the boundaries of fiction, memoir and history (Emmanuel Carrère, Laurent Binet, the American-born Jonathan Littell) or of high art and snuff lit (Michel Houelle­becq). Among the recent crop of writers just reaching the top of their game, Marie NDiaye, born in 1967 and now living in Berlin, is pre-eminent.

NDiaye’s career has been stellar. When she was 18, the legendary editor Jérôme Lindon (best known as Samuel Beckett’s champion) published her first novel to high critical acclaim. Her subsequent fiction and plays have won numerous prizes and distinctions. (NDiaye’s “Papa Doit Manger,” or “Daddy’s Got to Eat,” produced in 2003, is the only play by a living woman to have entered the repertory of the ­Comédie-Française.) “Three Strong Women” — NDiaye’s most recent novel — won the Prix Goncourt when it appeared in 2009 and made her, according to a survey by L’Express-RTL, the most widely read French author of the year…

…The expectation — whether menacing or well meaning — that NDiaye should “represent” multiracial France, or be considered a voice of the French African diaspora, has often dogged her. In fact, as NDiaye is at pains to make clear, she scarcely knew her Senegalese father, who came to France as a student in the 1960s and returned to Africa when she was a baby. Raised by her French mother — a secondary school science teacher — in a housing project in suburban Paris, with vacations in the countryside where her maternal grandparents were farmers, NDiaye describes herself as a purely French product, with no claim to biculturalism but her surname and the color of her skin. Nonetheless, the absent father — charismatic, casually cruel, voraciously selfish — haunts NDiaye’s fiction and drama, as does the shadow of a dreamlike Africa in which demons and evil portents abound, where the unscrupulous can make overnight fortunes and, with another turn of the wheel, find themselves rotting in a jail cell…

Read the entire review here.

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