Sunday, June 26, 2016


Three Strong Women, Marie NDiaye, Alfred A Knopf, 2012, 293 pp (translated from the French by John Fletcher
 Summary from Goodreads: In this new novel, the first by a black woman ever to win the coveted Prix Goncourt, Marie NDiaye creates a luminous narrative triptych as harrowing as it is beautiful.

This is the story of three women who say no: Norah, a French-born lawyer who finds herself in Senegal, summoned by her estranged, tyrannical father to save another victim of his paternity; Fanta, who leaves a modest but contented life as a teacher in Dakar to follow her white boyfriend back to France, where his delusional depression and sense of failure poison everything; and Khady, a penniless widow put out by her husband’s family with nothing but the name of a distant cousin (the aforementioned Fanta) who lives in France, a place Khady can scarcely conceive of but toward which she must now take desperate flight.
My Review:
I've wanted to read this novel since it first came out. I proposed it to a couple of my reading groups but it did not get picked (and I am glad-more about that in a minute.) Then her second book at Knopf (Ladivine) came out this spring and got me excited again so I read this one first.
It was not difficult to read, in fact I couldn't put it down, but it was emotionally tough. The three women (called Three Powerful Women in the French title) are loosely connected mainly by the experiences of either being born in France of mixed French/Senegalese parents, emigrating from Senegal to France, or desiring to emigrate. These connections are skillfully created by the author similar to the way the three sections of The Vegetarian are. 
What was tough was the dire lack of love or happiness in these women's lives. Americans put a lot of belief into creating happiness for their children. Whether we achieve it is another story. So, despite all the literature I have read about dysfunctional families, it was just a kick in the teeth to read about these people who did not even consider happiness an option.
Survival is another issue altogether and that is also what connects the three women. Each one has personal strength or power but it is directed toward other outcomes than happiness. And yet, in another stroke of writing brilliance, you see that they each have hearts that beat and are aware of the happiness they have been denied.
Marie NDiaye has a Senegalese father and French mother. She was educated as a linguist at the Sorbonne, the alma mater of Simone de Beauvoir, from whose autobiographies I got the idea that one has to be super intelligent to succeed there. Also tough and, at least for a female, in touch with your inner power.
All of that is to say that an almost pitiless intelligence shine through in these stories as well as a firm belief that it takes some kind of spiritual strength to keep pushing forward into lives that are so far from even normal, much less ideal.
Do I recommend the book? Not for everyone. For readers who enjoy translated literary fiction, who want to know how people, particularly women, live in other countries and locales, yes. For readers who prefer not to read about the grittier realities of some peoples' lives, no.
I will read Ladivine. Also today I learned, thanks to the wonder of Twitter, that there is a second publisher, Two Lines Press, who have published two other novels by NDaiye and are preparing a third.

(Three Strong Women is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)


  1. How very interesting. I was not familiar with this writer and I am delighted that you have brought her to my attention.

  2. This has been on my TBR list for a couple of years now and your post motivated me to check our provincial library for a copy. Surprisingly, they have one! Thanks for the reminder to get going on this promising author. :-)

  3. It sounds depressing, but that's the way of life in most Third World countries where survival, more than being happy, takes most of people's energies.

  4. I hadn't heard of this author so thanks for the attention to her. It sounds like she is good at writing about unsettling and tough stories.

    1. Well I will read her next one, Ladavine, this month and see.

  5. Sounds very interesting. I am not familiar with this writer :) Thank you for sharing

    1. Check her out. She is a prize winning French novelist.

  6. Thank you, Judy, for visiting my blog and comment on Three Strong Women. As I mentioned there, I love to read about them but this was just quite depressing.

    I loved your review, very good.