Roxane's Reviews > Trois Femmes puissantes

Trois Femmes puissantes by Marie NDiaye
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Feb 18, 12

bookshelves: feminism, french, french-female-writers-reading-chall, gender, race
Read from January 11 to 20, 2012

This read was for the 2011 French Female Writers Throughout the Ages reading challenge, 21st century novel.

There were quite a few books I wanted to read in the 21st century category. I picked this one for several reasons, one of which being that having studied African-American literature and especially African-American women writers, I thought it might be interesting to have a look at what black women were doing in France. Second of all, the author was involved in some sort of scandal (at least that's what the press called it) for having spoken her mind on Sarkozy's election. Not exactly being a fan of the man himself, I couldn't help but sympathize. Also, it didn't hurt that it'd won the Goncourt in 2009.

Marie NDiaye is a woman of color struggling with her black inheritance (if there is such a thing). The lady was born in Pithiviers which is not too far from where I used to live in France and believe me, there's NOTHING exotic about Pithiviers. Her Senegalese father returned to his native country when she was a year old and since then, she's only seen him three times. In fact, Trois Femmes Puissantes is the only novel of hers in which she mentions Africa. Was I being prejudiced when I picked this book for the reasons mentioned above? Most certainly, and I clearly wasn't the only one (not that it makes it okay in any way, mind you!) as Marie NDiaye has often had to explain her strange situation in the face of her black inheritance and has even come up with the phrase "truncated mixity" which is quite interesting: Marie NDiaye doesn't feel that she can be referred to as African or even as mixed as there was no one to pass on any "African" knowledge or culture to her as she was growing up. It's an interesting perspective that probably deserves to be debated but I guess what it basically mean is: "I may be a black woman but my books are not all going to take place in Africa, I want to be free of your expectations in that regard, free to write what I feel like writing, Africa or no Africa"... which is fair enough and really something most black women writers could relate to, truncated inheritance or not.

At any rate, Africa or no Africa, I really enjoyed reading Trois Femmes Puissantes and I'm surprised that even winning a prestigious European literary prize doesn't mean that foreign fiction will be translated into English quickly. When I see foreign publishers struggling to match US or UK publications for fear that their readers will have gone to read the English edition instead of waiting for the translation, I'm always amazed and a bit sad to see that English speaking editors clearly do not have the same concerns.

But back to the book... Marie NDiaye's prose is quite distinctive. Having only read this one title, it's hard to know if it's her usual style or just a one-time experiment for TFP. I'm quite tempted by the former explanation possibility though. Her sentences are long, very long sometimes (I had to adapt my read-as-I-walk pace!). In fact, they're not so much sentences as stanzas at times. It nicely complements the touches of magical realism spread throughout the narrative and also highlight the poetic metaphors and recurring images that travel from one section of the novel to the next (as you might have guessed there are three sections to this book). These images sometimes echo the meaning they had in the previous section, but more often than not their meaning changes subtly. I'm especially thinking about the use of that of the bird which can translate into vengeance or a harbinger of death.

TFP revolves around three main characters: Norah who's come back to Senegal following her father's request, Fanta who's left Senegal years ago and now lives a mediocre life in France with her alienated husband, and Khady, the most touching of all three, who's forced into exile by her in-laws following the death of her husband.

All three stories reveal each woman's inner strength by showing that despite past and present circumstances, they are not altered at their core. They know who they are and what they are capable of and no father, brother, husband, child or other can change this. They give, take, love, are betrayed, break down and fall, die but deep down inside they retain their humanity.

While I had clear preference for Norah's storyline (I would really have wanted to read more of it), the book's overall strength resides in its diversity. These three stories are told in very different ways. While there are strong touches of magical realism in Norah's story and she's very concerned with other people's behavior and intentions, their perception of herself and also the past, Fanta's character is solely described through the eyes of her husband Rudy, and Khady is the most self-aware and self-sufficient character of them all although her story is quite a tragic one.

I really enjoyed reading this novel and would recommend it to anyone looking for something original, something touching and poetic but also strong and determined.
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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Andrea I think you said it all! Liked this detailed review.

Roxane Andrea wrote: "I think you said it all! Liked this detailed review."

Thanks! Although I think there's still lots to be said on this one! Such a fantastic book! ;-)

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