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3.45 of 5 stars 3.45  ·  rating details  ·  429 ratings  ·  32 reviews
Based on a true story, Ourika relates the experiences of a Senegalese girl who is rescued from slavery and raised by an aristocratic French family during the French Revolution. Brought up in a household of learning and privilege, she is unaware of her difference until she overhears a conversation that makes her suddenly conscious of her race - and of the prejudice it arous ...more
Paperback, 80 pages
Published January 1st 1995 by Modern Language Association of America (first published 1823)
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Ourika is the name of this short novel's eponymous heroine, a young Senegalese slave woman who is rescued from s life of drudgery and brought up by a French noblewoman around the time of the Terror. For perhaps the first time in literary history, authorClaire de Duras writes about the life of a black heroine surrounded on all sides by whites.

Young Ourika falls in love with her patroness's son, but Charles marries a sixteen-year-old girl of noble family:
God will bear witness, I was happy for Cha
To imagine that Ourika is a simply a tale about a woman who is distraught over a man is to severely misread the richness of this novel, which offers a complex regard of race, blackness, womanhood, identity, and intercultural acceptance. With its harsh criticisms of political fervor generated by the French Revolution as well as social behaviors--namely, French upper-class elitism--this was a risky novel for its time. It tells the story of a Senagalese girl who, one day, suddenly realizes she is " ...more
May 26, 2015 Laura marked it as to-read
Recommended to Laura by: Dagny
Free download in French is available at Project Gutenberg.

Free download in English (pdf file) is available at HathiThrust Digital Library.
First, a tangent that I swear has a point:

For several years, I’ve had a copy of A.S. Byatt’s Possession sitting on my shelf. I planned to read it last year, but shortly before starting, I read an article about books inspired by other books. One of the books mentioned? Possession, which tips its hat to John Fowles’s The French Lieutenant’s Woman, which, in turn, tips its hat to a little-known French novella by the name of Ourika.

Naturally, I then decided I could not read Possession until I read t
This brief, bittersweet novel was a courageous pheonmenon in France in the 1820s. At a time when the abolition movement was gaining momentum in France, the traditionalist and conservative element was busy making new rules to take more rights away from people of African heritage. Therefore, it is astonishing that Ourika was published when it was (1824) and received the (limited) respect it did for its lovely, black heroine, the title character. (I say "limited respect" because white French peopl ...more
Kevin Orr
An interesting historical context lead me to this read. Published discreetly and read by only 40 or Parisian women at first, it soon became a widespread success in France. Duras' story-within-a-story is well-written and poignant, and her character's experience in the Reign of Terror provides an interesting thought experiment. Overall, the most profound element lies in the main character's inability to cope with a quagmire that plagued many of minority persons of the period... Their explicit dist ...more
Abrupt ending. Unresolved conflicts. Too much time inside Ourika's head.
Rachel Coyne
Haunting. This should be a film. So much glorious visuals.
This book is, as we say in the literary world, Kind Of A Big Deal. It's the first novel (ok, so it's really more of a novella) set in Europe to feature a black heroine, and the first story narrated by a black female protagonist. The mere fact that Duras wrote this book right after the French Revolution is kind of amazing, AND it's based on real events.

Ourika is from Senegal originally, but she was adopted/purchased by a Frenchman when she was two years old. He brought her to Paris to live with
Sarah Elizabeth
Short but not sweet, Ourika is named for its protagonist. Ourika is a black woman adopted by a French family, living through the Reign of Terror in France as she discovers her own difference. She is from Senegal, she is black. Ourika faces lifes challenges with an added challenge of her own: how can an educated black woman live in the society she finds herself best fitted for. Duras succinctly and compellingly enters the mind of her protagonist, a character who's fate seems to resemble the autho ...more
Carolyn Heinze
Jun 28, 2007 Carolyn Heinze rated it 1 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: no one, really
Hm. Well. Nothing against the rich, but this is one of those examples of a bourgeoise having the right connections to get something published. Was intrigued by the story and its length - at 75 pages, I thought that maybe it would be a nice, simple, tightly-written story. Set against the backdrop of the Revolution, she could have done so much more with the material. But this book is just whiny, and about as subtle as a hurricane. Apparently, Mme de Duras (not to be confused with Marguerite) was k ...more
Interesting little book. It has to be considered in two contexts, I think -- in today's context, where much of the content here would still be problematic (that, for example, Charles views Ourika more or less as an extension of himself; the way the book ends), and in the context in which it was written, where it wasn't really recognised that, you know, white people are not the only people.

Not going to hold this up as an example of great writing, but it is at least thought-provoking.
Quite a heart-rendering little piece by Claire De Duras. John Fowles provides a beautiful translation that is concise, yet still fully captures the torment of Ourika. She sees herself as one who carries the burden of having an "irremediable stain of color" in a high class French society. That one simple phrase threw me into a sympathetic state of distress for our self-deprecating character. All in all, "Ourika" is a very short read but carries a very powerful story.
Though its theme of race, society, and unrequited love is interesting, and it stands as one of the earliest abolitionist pieces where a "white person tried to present a black person's thoughts", the extremely short story itself has not much else to recommend. It left me unsatisfied, and yet unwanting. I guess the term I'm looking for here is indifference. Maybe it's just the translation I read. Would be a great piece to study in the classroom though.
It was fine had to read it in French which made it less pleasurable.
Aside from being the longest thing I've ever read in French (god, that's pathetic. I can do better), I thought this book was great. It might not have much in the way of plot or characterisation, but it offers interesting commentary on the subjects of racism, slavery, and class. The juxtaposition of Ourika's bleak situation in the Polite World and the bloody backdrop of the French Revolution is fascinating.
Craig Werner
The first French novel with an African protagonist (a woman born in Senegal, brought to France when very young). I read this primarily for historical reasons, but it's worth reading for its merits. Interesting treatments of the French revolution (background but significant), women's positions in aristocratic society and a unique version of double (or triple) consciousness. A very quick read.
This is probably one of my top 5 favorite books and it is hard to pin-point why; part of me thinks that it is the unrequited/unexpressed love of Ourika for Charles, another due to it's concise writing, being able to express so much in barely 50 double spaced pages, and yet another part for the forward by John Fowles, which stirred feelings of a kindred soul for the written word.
Classic story about a woman who pines away because she feels like an outcast from aristocratic French society due to her skin color. This was assigned reading in high school, and I happened across it again in a bookstore. I wrote more about Ourika on Dead Men Blogging.
I didn't read this particular translation - I actually read the original French text. It was good, but rich, and extremely loaded. Very dense language and a lot of ideas and themes and struggles packed into a mere 45 pages. Still, it was pleasant to tackle this and I have a lot of respect for Duras for writing and publishing such a novel at the time she did.
Very good read, maybe because I could connect to the main character a little. Read it in like 2 hours but still good. She's really a girl set in her own world. She's to educated and isolated to be a true "negress" with the other slaves, but she's still black, and as such is isolated from even her benefactress who loves her like a daughter.
I've not read much (or any) historical French literature, so while the language seemed a bit stilted, I assume it's typical of the period. Realizing that the story was based on a real young woman's life, though, made it both compelling and heartbreaking.
Fairly standard comparative literature coursework. Great in its brevity and simplicity, but the story is a little bland and the "pity me" attitude can be grating when repeated over and over and over.
I read this in French in college. It is a great introduction for my Women in Global Perspective class this spring: race, gender, cultural difference...
(Retro-reviewing): Facile et vite à lire, très bien écrit et l'histoire est vraiment racontée à travers les yeux d'une femme noir au 18ième siècle.
Definitely a book to read with a discussion group, as you will get more fulfillment out of reading it if you can discuss it with others.
It's about a man. Yes, society's racism probably exacerbated her problems, but she's depressed over a man.
It was so sad but there are very interesting topics of class, sex, race, and mental health!
Great book! Fast read and very compelling view on race and gender.
A very easy read that only took me about an hour.
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Claire de Duras left her native France for London during the French Revolution in 1789, and returned to France in 1808 as the Duchess of Duras. She maintained a famous literary salon in post-Revolutionary Paris and was the close friend of Chateaubriand, who she had met while in exile in London, and who helped her to publish her books.

Ourika was published anonymously in 1823, one of five novels Cla
More about Claire de Duras...

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