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.
With lyrical intensity, Marie NDiaye masterfully evokes the relentless denial of dignity, to say nothing of happiness, in these lives caught between Africa and Europe. We see with stunning emotional exactitude how ordinary women discover unimagined reserves of strength, even as their humanity is chipped away. Three Strong Women admits us to an immigrant experience rarely if ever examined in fiction, but even more into the depths of the suffering heart.
About the Author
Marie NDiaye was born in Pithiviers, France, in 1967; spent her childhood with her French mother (her father was Senegalese); and studied linguistics at the Sorbonne. She started writing when she was twelve or thirteen years old and was only eighteen when her first work was published. In 2001 she was awarded the prestigious Prix Femina literary prize for her novel Rosie Carpe, and in 2009, she won the Prix Goncourt for Three Strong Women.
Best of 2012, San Francisco Chronicle
Starred Review: Library Journal, Kirkus Book Reviews
“A writer of the highest caliber…NDiaye is a hypnotic storyteller with an unflinching understanding of the rock-bottom reality of most people’s lives…Clearsightedness—combined with her subtle narrative sleights of hand and her willingness to broach essential subjects—gives her fiction a rare integrity that shines through the sinuous prose…Through the distorting lenses of madness and deprivation, NDiaye manages nonetheless to convey a redemptive realism about how the world works, and what makes people tick…A masterpiece of narrative ingenuity, Three Strong Women is the poised creation of a novelist unafraid to explore the extremes of human suffering.”
—Fernanda Eberstadt, The New York Times Book Review (Cover review)
“Gorgeous, fearless prose…NDiaye’s storytelling approaches something of the power and simplicity of folklore. There is good and evil here, and as in the world they are blended confusingly and only slowly revealed. In the interplay between Europe and Africa, between men and women, NDiaye finds both beauty and beast.”
—Kate Tuttle, Boston Globe
“Hypnotic…Powerful…Compelling…[NDiaye] is an impressive stylist with a strong voice…A novel that examines bravely and from both sides the collision of Europe and Africa.”
—Thomas Chatterton Williams, San Francisco Chronicle
“Passionate and unsettling…Rich, sensuous…Three Strong Women is a major work of world literature...A rare novel, capturing the grand scope of migration, from Africa to Europe and back, and the inner lives of very different people caught between pride and despair. And NDiaye is a rare novelist, whose arrival in America is long overdue.”
—Jason Farago, NPR
“A tenuously linked tripartite novel that is more than the sum of its parts is a hard act to pull off. Marie NDiaye, one of France’s most exciting prose stylists and playwrights, succeeds with elegance, grit and some painful comedy in Three Strong Women…Its three heroines have an unassailable sense of their own self-worth, while their psychological battles have an almost mythic resonance…The prose compels with astonishing range and precision.”
—Maya Jaggi, The Guardian (UK)
“NDiaye’s quiet intelligence is made apparent by the complexity of her characters and her intuitive prose in this subtly beautiful novel.”
“Captivating and unsettling …with spare prose and evocative imagery…John Fletcher’s translation conveys the richness and precision of language for which NDiaye is renowned in the French-speaking world…In each of the novel’s characters, strength and weakness, violence and vulnerability are as intertwined as the quotidian and the extraordinary in NDiaye’s storytelling…A multifaceted glimpse of lives too rarely seen in print.”
—Sara Kaplan, Ms.
“Compelling…NDiaye dissects her characters with impressive forensic detail, the subtlest speech inflection or gesture put under the microscope…The language has an hypnotic emotional intensity…the novel has a passion, daring and individuality.”
—Bernardine Evaristo, The Independent (UK)
“Sinewy and sardonic, combining realism and fable in a way that mixes Kafka and Cinderella…Three Strong Women is full of NDiaye’s narrative gusto, stylistic virtuosity and command of tone…The power the stories reveal is that of self-knowledge, self-belief and endurance.”
—Michael Sheringham, Times Literary Supplement (UK)
“A beautiful novel…NDiaye’s writing is extraordinarily powerful, and she is very well served by John Fletcher’s elegant, economical translation.”
—The Times (UK)
“The beauty of her language, the strange force of her inspiration, her mastery of narrative have established her as one of the important figures in French literature…[she] opens up the mysterious world of the most secret thoughts.”
“Here is the beauty of Marie NDiaye’s novel: a fire burning in the heart of a cold and frozen existence.”
—Journal du Dimanche
“Between Africa and France, her enchanted heroines, cursed by history, cast their nets, and glowing with their hard-won freedom—strong women even taking off towards death.”
“A sumptuous classicism…Proust and Faulkner conversing under African skies… one of our greatest writers.”
“Mastery of form carried to extraordinary levels… velvety prose, wise and precise—a frighteningly just, real, dignified, and poignant vision of suffering humanity.”
“A masterly work, served by an exacting, intense, and bewitching prose, implacably apt throughout, transporting us to the edge of the strange and the imaginary,. Three Strong Women surely established Marie Ndiaye as one of the most eminent “writer-storytellers” of our time.
—Rentrée Littéraire 2009
“Sinuous long phrases, at times brutal, at times sweet, underline and follow the emerging consciousness of these African women in their quest for identity...Riveting, hypnotizing prose.”
“Strength. That is the word that would suffice to summarize the genius of this work…NDiaye’s new novel has the force of a fist. ”