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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 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.


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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 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.

30 review for Three Strong Women

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jaidee

    5 "sorrowful, exquisite, anguishing" stars !! 2016 Silver Award -2nd Favorite Read (Tie) Winner of the 2009 Prix Goncourt (France) I will start by restating the three little updates I gave while I was reading At 29 % Novella 1 in this book is about Norah....and I feel all tingly, and sad and afraid. African literature can move me so much that I often avoid it as it permeates my being !! More to say when I finish the book and write the review. Suffice it to say Novella One is a full five stars !! At 7 5 "sorrowful, exquisite, anguishing" stars !! 2016 Silver Award -2nd Favorite Read (Tie) Winner of the 2009 Prix Goncourt (France) I will start by restating the three little updates I gave while I was reading At 29 % Novella 1 in this book is about Norah....and I feel all tingly, and sad and afraid. African literature can move me so much that I often avoid it as it permeates my being !! More to say when I finish the book and write the review. Suffice it to say Novella One is a full five stars !! At 75 % Novella 2 is about Rudy. Like the first novella in the book, the second novella is a full five stars. I am astounded at Ms. Marie NDiaye's astuteness. I think I may be falling in love with her :) At 99% Novella 3 is about Khady. This is a story I don't think I will ever shake. 5 stars once again. Review to follow in a few hours. Rest of Review: This book was one of the finest books I have ever read. It seeped into my body like a fine lotion, tore at my heart like a long bout of angina, challenged my brain like an ethical question and made my soul quiver like the strings of a viola during a Brahm's sonata. Ms. NDiaye writes with a quiet ferociousness that is frightening, harrowing and yet beautiful, refined. Primitive and civilized. Questioning yet all-knowing. I was completely in her grip when I was reading and when I was not these stories fluttered inside me like the birds that symbolize so much in all three of these novellas. Ms. NDiaye is one of those rare authors who understands not only character but nuances of emotion that are so finite that unless we stop and listen will pass us by like a cricket's chirp, the rustling of leaves or the distant mewling of a kitten. She understands motivations and the influence of history and present circumstances on the psyche. She not only understands her characters but she loves them like a mother earth. She tries to keep them safe in a wretched cruel world that hurts each of us in a myriad of ways. She does not judge but tries so very hard to understand, soothe and bring them close to her bosom not to reassure but to give strength, acknowledge and to impart wisdom so that we can go on not only to survive but to grab a few breaths of joy, beauty and understanding until the next injustice, cruelty or perversion presents itself. This book is not just about three strong black women. The book transcends that. The book is about living life to the fullest despite hurt, injustice and pain. In short this book is about humanity. With humility and respect Ms. NDiaye I thank you for creating and sharing this masterpiece.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Aubrey

    4.5/5 How does the fact that others are doing well diminish you? Out of all the Prix Goncourt-winning books I've read, this one has the lowest rating on Goodreads. It's doing worse than coprophilic Nazis, colonial pedophilia, ferociously internalized misogyny, and some of the longest sentences that ever longed. It bugged and bugged to the point that, feminist with a strong streak of engineering mentality that I am, I went and crunched the data of the books on my own to read shelf, specifically 4.5/5 How does the fact that others are doing well diminish you? Out of all the Prix Goncourt-winning books I've read, this one has the lowest rating on Goodreads. It's doing worse than coprophilic Nazis, colonial pedophilia, ferociously internalized misogyny, and some of the longest sentences that ever longed. It bugged and bugged to the point that, feminist with a strong streak of engineering mentality that I am, I went and crunched the data of the books on my own to read shelf, specifically regarding the intersection of women authors with books with less than a 3.7 rating, the popular line that separates wheat from the chaff. While books by women make up 36.8% of my to be reads, they are 50.1% of the 3.6's and below, the chance of such a rating being 27.9% as compared to the 16.1% of books by men. I could just have shitty ass taste in choosing future female-authored reads, but it does make me wonder, especially when considering the 3.83 average this book enjoys among my GR friends. If only, he thought, he could prove before his inner tribunal that he'd had good reason to get so terribly angry, he'd be in a better position to regret his behavior and his whole nature would be improved thereby. The poor rating's a shame, for this is some of the best anti-girlfriend in a refrigerator I've read in every sense of the word. I know the whole shifty-eyed reaction to affirmative action and all the "first _________ to ____________" in the third millenia but seriously, this book is so beautiful in its inherent clarity of thought and imagery that their application to the rarest of scenes encountered in literature is just an added bonus. Immigration is a popular byline in the book awards these days, but the triptych offered here of colonizer, colonized, and postcolonial is nothing short of masterful, a mind behind every face and a reckoning in every mind. …an exaggerated, resolute, anxious friendship that bore no relationship to the boy’s particular qualities and that could suddenly turn to hatred without Rudy’s realizing it, or even understanding that hatred… There's the demon of so called "political correctness" you're looking for. Not respect, not recognition, not even a simple attempt at communication, but an assumption of pompous charity that believes itself altruistic while refusing to become as selfless as the descriptor implies. Sentiment breeds failure, failure breeds guilt, and guilt doesn't do shit so long as your personal preoccupation with your privilege prevents you from seeing others as human beings with their own lives, goals, and concerns that for the most part lie far outside the ring of -isms. So long as you obsess without acknowledging the need for time and patience, you'll never discover that those descended from the crimes of your ancestors don't need your overeager overtures of friendship. Commitment to empathetic effort forevermore, yes. Defensive charity, no. Because their only son had married her against her wishes, because she had not produced a child, and because she enjoyed no one's protection, they had tacitly, naturally, without animus or ulterior motive, separated her from the human community, and so their hard, narrow, old people's eyes made no distinction between the shape called Khady and the innumerable forms of animals and things that also inhabit the world. There's one of those long sentences people liked to complain about for you. I hardly register them these days, but I have to say, it doesn't read half bad to me. What right had he to include her in his feelings of abjection just because he lacked her strength of spirit? Objectification is the practice of depriving both the objectifier and the objectified of the capacity to forgive. As much as we like to think otherwise, there's a world of thought and form beyond the clumsy interrelations of humanity, where every one does far more to restore one's status as subject than anyone else is capable of. No quick fixes here, but there's nothing to condemn when it comes to the constant effort of peaceful living.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Hugh

    This is not an easy read, but it is powerful and memorable. The book is in three sections which are almost independent of each other, which makes it very difficult to assess as a unified whole. All of them talk of journeys between France and Senegal. I can't resist talking about the final section first. This is an unflinching, powerful and harrowing depiction of a journey undertaken by a poor and ignorant woman who has been rejected by her dead husband's family in Senegal and is trying to reach F This is not an easy read, but it is powerful and memorable. The book is in three sections which are almost independent of each other, which makes it very difficult to assess as a unified whole. All of them talk of journeys between France and Senegal. I can't resist talking about the final section first. This is an unflinching, powerful and harrowing depiction of a journey undertaken by a poor and ignorant woman who has been rejected by her dead husband's family in Senegal and is trying to reach France. For me this was very moving and the conclusion is devastating. The first part tells of a French lawyer returning to Senegal to visit her African father, who has summoned her because he thinks she can help her brother who is in prison accused of murdering the young stepmother with whom he has been having an affair. The second part is the longest, and I struggled a little to maintain interest in it, partly because it is told from the viewpoint of a man who is not a sympathetic narrator because he is full of guilt and self hatred. The strong woman in this part is his wife, who has left a good job as a teacher in Senegal after her husband has been dismissed after a fight with some students triggered when one of them brings up the subject of his father who murdered his business partner. His French mother has found him a job in France, but he is not happy there, and believes that his wife has been sleeping with his boss. The book is full of startling imagery and symbolism, and NDiaye is a talented writer, but it is a very bleak read.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Cheryl

    What varied postures humans assume after traumatic events. Some reside in stoic resilience, their screams silent on the inside, because the human need to communicate vocally, has been mentally eviscerated. Some live in anguished existence, blaming the world, blaming fate, while others choose to react aggressively, sometimes harming others, sometimes harming themselves. This book could be called Three Strong Stories, instead of Three Strong Women, especially since the three parts seem to stand al What varied postures humans assume after traumatic events. Some reside in stoic resilience, their screams silent on the inside, because the human need to communicate vocally, has been mentally eviscerated. Some live in anguished existence, blaming the world, blaming fate, while others choose to react aggressively, sometimes harming others, sometimes harming themselves. This book could be called Three Strong Stories, instead of Three Strong Women, especially since the three parts seem to stand alone, their connections only subtle reminders easily missed. But oh what lucid, yet serpentine prose NDiaye uses to showcase the harsh realities of humanity come undone. The psychological examination of these characters, their inner revelations and self-awareness, made me think of Banville's Ancient Light and Camus' The Stranger; in fact, Rudy Descas could easily have become Meursault. Rudy, he who was constantly hot and he whose anus frequently itched whenever his thoughts wandered into psychosis. Rudy, he who had seen something terrible as a child, an act firmly lodged into the back of his skull. Rudy, he who lived to torture the woman he loved. Something, something in the natural placidity shown by a woman who was above all an intellectual, something in the seeming unawareness of her own composure on the part of a woman who usually got to the bottom of everything: something in her appeared to defy all understanding, he thought almost admiringly, but also a trifle unnerved. These stories ask questions of themselves, of life, and they ask questions of the readers, questions that sometimes don't get answered, because how do you answer life's absolute questions? What happens when one's perception of life is like Norah's, so obscured from a broken childhood, that one doesn't know when one's viewing the malevolent, or when malevolence actually resides in one's own obstructed view of the world, so much so that one hasn't really 'seen' one's sibling, until it's too late? When he smiled, it was the same distant, radiant smile that she'd always known him to wear and that had perpetually tugged at her heartstrings, because she'd always sensed, as she now knew, that it served merely to conceal and contain an inexpressible sadness. No character moved me quite like Khady Demba did. I will remember Khady like I remember Ruby, from Ruby and Pecola from The Bluest Eye, because of how these women embodied their pain. I will think of Khady - she who wanted a child, was widowed too soon, and constantly lived in terror - when I think of literary characters who have experienced the agony of love and loss, disappointments from trauma, and yet they remained resilient. This is the dark side of the African immigrant experience that Unigwe tried to make palpable in On Black Sisters Street: A Novel, but I found more purity of present thought in Khady's experience. Since NDiaye seems unafraid to examine the human experience and present it to the world in affecting prose of emotional intensity, she is definitely a writer on my radar. So that, when she found herself living with in-laws who couldn't forgive her for having no means of support and no dowry, who despised her openly and angrily for having failed to conceive, she willingly became a poor, self-effacing wretch who entertained only vague impersonal thoughts and inconsistent, pallid dreams, in the shadow of which she wandered about vacantly, mechanically dragging her indifferent feet and, she believed, hardly suffering at all.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    It is brave to call a book like this "Three powerful Women"! And it is fitting too, as the women described never give in or give up despite living the hell of poverty, dependence and patriarchal power structures - surrounded by violent and greedy men who take what they want from them without ever stopping to consider their needs or even to recognise they are human at all. Locked in a marriage with a pathological control freak, outside your country, among people who judge you by your skin colour? It is brave to call a book like this "Three powerful Women"! And it is fitting too, as the women described never give in or give up despite living the hell of poverty, dependence and patriarchal power structures - surrounded by violent and greedy men who take what they want from them without ever stopping to consider their needs or even to recognise they are human at all. Locked in a marriage with a pathological control freak, outside your country, among people who judge you by your skin colour? Trying to escape to a better world, the utopia of "Europe" and stuck in the machinery of the brutal money-making refugee business, with nothing to sell but your broken body? Returning to your patriarchal monster of a father to use your professional skills as well as your psychological sensitivity to save your brother from a fate that should be the evil father's? The stories are hard to stomach and difficult to read, mainly because they ring true. The beautiful language and expressive descriptions of the changing settings add to the mix and make Marie NDiaye's Prix Goncourt novel stand out in the literary landscape of today! Recommended to the world. Read and cry!

  6. 5 out of 5

    Zanna

    Three abrasively unpleasant stories snagged on overlapping locations, like Khady's torn leg and torn ear, snagged and then torn loose by impersonal brutality, a world that wounds. NDiaye's style reminded me of other extremely 'interior' texts, in particular The Hour of the Star. The prose is sophisticated, almost deliberately awkward and consciously repetitive. The grim subject matter demoralised me to the point of wanting to abandon reading, and the magical elements only enhanced the mood of mis Three abrasively unpleasant stories snagged on overlapping locations, like Khady's torn leg and torn ear, snagged and then torn loose by impersonal brutality, a world that wounds. NDiaye's style reminded me of other extremely 'interior' texts, in particular The Hour of the Star. The prose is sophisticated, almost deliberately awkward and consciously repetitive. The grim subject matter demoralised me to the point of wanting to abandon reading, and the magical elements only enhanced the mood of miserable, grief-stricken, terrifying unheimlich. I did not enjoy reading. For example, Ndiaye (for unlike in The Hour of the Star our narrator's voice is not explicitly mediated) would flatly announce that a character felt some incongruous emotion… It is true that people feel incongruous emotions and perhaps the author wants to make me work harder to relate to people on or beyond the edge of sanity, but I found myself lacking in the requisite patience or compassion to feel other than baffled when someone found hostility reassuring or was disgusted by the unusually healthy and vivacious appearance of a beloved mother. NDiaye's characters do not feel what I would feel and so I constantly have to be told what they are feeling; it cannot be implied; no gaps can be left for me here; the lacunae are pushed to the margins of the interlocking narratives, where I would fill them if it weren't for the gross inconsistencies between them, the lurking spectres of false memory, fogging the thoughts of our three severely unreliable narrators. I was so grumpy while reading that the conflicting accounts felt to me like authorial spite! The low point for me is Fanta's section, which is narrated by her mentally ill, arrogant and angry white husband. Why o why am I stuck in this poisoned psyche? I begged the author to reveal to me, but I was left to myself, to find some answer. Each narrative mercilessly punishes a 'strong' black woman for daring to exist unbowed; that's why I found it so uncongenial and saddening. Why, Marie, why? I pleaded. She could have answered 'Is it my fault I know a truth that is ugly? What right have you to hide from it?' and yeah, I have no comeback. But the themes and their bridges! Rudy's racist mother's obsession with little blond boys and Fanta and Rudy's son, whose very name mocks her ironic blindness, which seems counterpointed to me by Khady's obsessive desire for motherhood. But Djibril, an external character who seems particularly sane and likeable, is bound by that hinted-at angelic status to Norah's glowing, menacing father, another maligned black male. Where does a bird become an angel or vice versa? Surely the crow-hustler-guide who leads cast-out Khady for a while is not from heaven? I have not understood well; the meanings of signs have escaped me. But it is impossible to miss the sign of Khady's strength, her implacable, instinctive self-love and self-respect, the blazing light that closes the book in its fearful tumult and anguish and outrage. It is through Khady that the 'strength' of Norah (who is busy) and Fanta (who does not speak for herself) is clarified and tempered:She had even happened on occasion to feel proud of being Khady because - she had often thought with some amazement - children whose lives seemed happy, who ever day got generous helpings of chicken and fish and wore clothes to school that were not stained or torn, such children were no more human than Khady Demba who only managed to get a minuscule helping of the good things in lifeJust as Lispector from under the weight of her worldly narrator lovingly reveals her meagre Macabea human and angel, I hear Ndiaye speak to all Khadys, Norahs and Fantas: 'No matter what humiliation, deprivation and violence is piled on you, you are essence as well as existence, you are yourself, you are crucial and irreplacable to the whole universe.' And to the rest I hear her spit 'Do better'.

  7. 4 out of 5

    ·Karen·

    Creative writing exercise: I'll give you the words that I had to look up. Not all of them, but the ones I remember, mostly because they were repeated. Often. 1. Write a story that includes all these words. 2. Use them early, use them often. This will ensure that, by some magical means, they become imbued with Deeper Significance. flamboyant - (no, not flamboyant. That would be too easy) a flame tree. tongs - flip-flops hotte - extractor fan hood over the cooker (or not quite, in this case) avilissa Creative writing exercise: I'll give you the words that I had to look up. Not all of them, but the ones I remember, mostly because they were repeated. Often. 1. Write a story that includes all these words. 2. Use them early, use them often. This will ensure that, by some magical means, they become imbued with Deeper Significance. flamboyant - (no, not flamboyant. That would be too easy) a flame tree. tongs - flip-flops hotte - extractor fan hood over the cooker (or not quite, in this case) avilissant - demeaning, degrading la buse - buzzard choucas - jackdaw honnir - execrate That last one is the very same verb as in the motto of the Order of the Garter*. I've never come across it in modern French, I always thought it was archaic. Marie NDiaye won the Prix Goncourt for this novel in 2009. The Grauniad tells me this is worth all of €10, and that she is the first black woman to win, but also translates the title as Three Powerful Women, which I'm sure is wrong. It should be Three Strong Women. The word puissante is used because une femme forte might mean something else entirely (isn't it?). There are three tales here of women who resist, who find inner strength and dignity even in extremis. Looking at other reviews here, it seems that the second story, the longest one, is not well favoured. Interminable is one epithet. The woman there is only seen through the ruminations of her husband. He is almost lost in an abyss of self-disgust. His story builds slowly and reveals the reasons for the blackness, the buzzard waiting in the shadows. I actually liked this one best, it caught my heart and does at least give a sense of redemption, of hope, the vindictive buzzard is overcome. The third one is harrowing and harsh, the first disconcerting and disorientating. The writing is sensational, in all meanings of that word. The body, the physical, the sensations felt in the material, mortal being. Pain, itching, prickling, burning, heart racing, sweat. Then there's a good pinch of magic realism and slightly heavy-handed symbolism. A very affecting mix. *Honi soit qui mal y pense.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Kinga

    If I were the sort of person who writes one-word reviews, I’d say: “intriguing”. Because this book is definitely intriguing. Don’t be put off by the long sentences, occasional editorial glitches and some repetitions – in the end “Three Strong Women” is a rewarding book. Marie Ndiaye might prefer commas to periods but she can write. And it’s still an improvement from her debut novel, which, I hear, was a 200 page long and contained only ONE sentence, so obviously Ndiaye is overcoming some innate If I were the sort of person who writes one-word reviews, I’d say: “intriguing”. Because this book is definitely intriguing. Don’t be put off by the long sentences, occasional editorial glitches and some repetitions – in the end “Three Strong Women” is a rewarding book. Marie Ndiaye might prefer commas to periods but she can write. And it’s still an improvement from her debut novel, which, I hear, was a 200 page long and contained only ONE sentence, so obviously Ndiaye is overcoming some innate aversion to periods and we should support her. I was surprised to learn ‘Three Strong Women’ is not a novel but a set of three novellas, so just as I was getting into the story of Norah, a slightly neurotic control freak with serious daddy’s issues I was pulled out of it, transported from Senegal back to France to join Rudy on a very long day during which he was going to reminisce over what a failure he was. The second novella is the longest and is brought to a satisfying end before the reader has to embark on yet another journey, again in Senegal, where Khady fights to maintain her identity because it is the last thing she still has in her miserable life. While this book is by no means of the magical realism kind, there are certain shifts in perception, certain unreliability of memories and that peculiar self-disassociation that the characters suffer from, that made put it on my ‘dreamy books’ shelf. There is also a very authentic exploration of a bully’s psyche and insecurities in the second novella. You can have a lot of fun setting these three novellas against each other and looking for common themes and tropes. For example, the characters in the first and second novella suffer from weird, possibly psychosomatic, afflictions in their nether regions. In the second and third novella, there are ‘bad omen’ birds. In the first and second novella we are in (a loosely defined) First World, while the third one takes place in a decisively Third World reality. The first and the last one are told from a female point of view with male characters only as shadowy figures - it’s the other way round in the second novella. You could go on like that for ages, try it. I don’t know why my brain needs to catalogue things like that, but it does that whether I want it or not. As this book has very strong links with Senegal, I decided to cook something Senegalese for dinner. The most traditional, national dish seems to be Thiéboudienne – Senegalese Fish and Rice. I have found a dozen of recipes on the internet and each one of them was different, so in the end I improvised using all of them. My three most important sources of inspiration were these: http://honestcooking.com/2012/11/02/s..., http://www.saveur.com/article/Recipes..., and http://www.ethnikka.org/2011/01/seneg.... It’s a rather time consuming dish, because each component must be cooked separately but in the same sauce. The result is delicious, though. Due to the lack of any interesting fish, I used Vietnamese river cobbler (also known as panga or catfish) and without getting into a long debate here, you’re not going to die from eating it, despite whatever nonsense you might’ve read on the internets. The truth is that sort of nonsense propaganda appeared only (very interestingly) in the countries which have a local, more expensive equivalent of panga (i.e. cod). It’s been one of the most popular fish in Poland since mid-90’s and no decrease in life expectancy has been observed (but then we don’t have a strong cod lobby, what we do have is second biggest Vietnamese community in Europe, weirdly). The only thing you should be concerned about panga is the food miles.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Kathleen

    “…she didn’t lament her present state, didn’t want to change it, and even found herself in a way delighted, not at her suffering but simply at her condition as a human being confronting as bravely as possible all sorts of perils.” I’m so happy to have discovered Marie NDiaye. She is a woman of the world: born to a French mother and Senegalese father, raised and educated in France, and now living in Berlin. Much of the new fiction I’ve read that is considered innovative seems gimmicky to me. Not t “…she didn’t lament her present state, didn’t want to change it, and even found herself in a way delighted, not at her suffering but simply at her condition as a human being confronting as bravely as possible all sorts of perils.” I’m so happy to have discovered Marie NDiaye. She is a woman of the world: born to a French mother and Senegalese father, raised and educated in France, and now living in Berlin. Much of the new fiction I’ve read that is considered innovative seems gimmicky to me. Not this. Three Strong Women felt spontaneous and tested and true. One of the many themes she tackles here has to do with location and dislocation. Characters are forced to uproot and adjust. They face neglect and stereotypes and brutality, and we discover how they cope. Norah, in the first section, travels from France to Senegal to visit her father, and this includes visiting the many upheavals of her childhood. Relationships are fascinating in this section. Family members are not who we expect, ties are frayed or non-existent, memories are challenged. This kind of change of scenery can make you look at your living situation differently, and while Norah tries to understand the task her father has set out for her, she is also trying to make sense of her living situation back at home in France. The second section skirts around the strong woman Fanta, focusing on Rudy, her disturbingly obsessive husband. The 142 pages of his internal-monologue are oppressive, but full of revelations about human nature and the workings of our negative self-talk. The third section is very powerful. The character of Khady Demba is remarkable--a strong heroine to me in the same way as Celie in The Color Purple. As you read, you internalize her strength, strength required to bear horrific circumstances. For me, this section was equally dispiriting and uplifting. The horrors of life are endless, but perhaps so too is our ability to shoulder them and carry on.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Leslie Reese

    This strikes me as being three loosely-connected novellas rather than "a novel." The prose is tense and haunting, and the women featured in these stories are more painfully human rather than heroic. Three Strong Women isn't the type of book to read in a hurry with your heart shut down and NDiaye isn't willing to prettify complicated situations to make them neat, manageable and easy to digest. This strikes me as being three loosely-connected novellas rather than "a novel." The prose is tense and haunting, and the women featured in these stories are more painfully human rather than heroic. Three Strong Women isn't the type of book to read in a hurry with your heart shut down and NDiaye isn't willing to prettify complicated situations to make them neat, manageable and easy to digest.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Friederike Knabe

    Marie NDiaye's Trois femmes puissantes is an intricately crafted, complex and thought provoking book. It doesn't initially feel like a novel as it comprises three 'novellas', three fictional accounts that each explores one individual's life at a crucial moment in time. Yet, reflecting later on content, writing and structure I felt that it falls into the category of novel: the stories are linked in subtle ways through imagery, peripheral characters, atmosphere and themes. NDiaye's novel comes ali Marie NDiaye's Trois femmes puissantes is an intricately crafted, complex and thought provoking book. It doesn't initially feel like a novel as it comprises three 'novellas', three fictional accounts that each explores one individual's life at a crucial moment in time. Yet, reflecting later on content, writing and structure I felt that it falls into the category of novel: the stories are linked in subtle ways through imagery, peripheral characters, atmosphere and themes. NDiaye's novel comes alive not only through its beautiful language, but also through her probing of the many contrasts and opposites that are the building blocks that make a life. Her writing is precise and detailed in conveying her characters' inner voices; yet, their thought processes are not always easy to comprehend on first reading. Her description of their close physical surroundings is highly evocative; yet, nature can be threatening, deafening, as well as calming and refreshing, once the sun sets over the dry and dusty land and the debilitating heat subsides, whether in Africa or in France. Building on the distinctive scenarios for her well defined characters, NDiaye delves deep into the complexities of individuals who are somehow and in some way caught between West Africa and France, whether in the present, the past or a dream of a future. For each of the women at the centre - Norah, Fanta and Khady - we are compelled to ask: Where to from here? However, the stories and each protagonist's circumstances are more complex than this question suggests and over the course of the three accounts we are given part answers and more suggestions, leaving us to imagine alternatives or, maybe, not. In the first story, for example, Norah's father retreats for the night into an ancient flame tree growing behind the house to enjoy the cooling air... Complementing her realistic descriptions of circumstances and surroundings, the author introduces recurring symbols and metaphors that indicate or hint at something beyond the reality that we and the protagonist perceive. For instance, birds and wings take special meaning and appear in all three novellas in different forms. In one, they are not just noisy companions and observers, but especially threatening in the mind's eye of the protagonist. They seem to play games with the human mind... Last but not least, at the end of each section/story NDiaye teases us with a short paragraph, a kind of epilogue, titled contrepoint that suggests a different perspective or conclusion. NDiaye imagines her central characters caught in a kind of fault line between (West) Africa and France with all that this can represent. One underlying theme is that of individuals moving in one direction or another between France and Senegal, changing places, whether visiting/living/dreaming. Norah, a successful Paris-based lawyer, a young mother with a complicated personal life, is suddenly summoned back to Senegal by a father she hardly remembers. What does he want from her and how will they reconnect, if at all? This story appears to be inspired (or more) by the author's personal experience. NDiaye defines herself as French; her connection to Senegal and to her father is as slight as that of her heroine... however, for Norah it is somebody else who draws her back and who impacts her future moves. Fanta, a hidden yet very central presence in the second story, appears to have succeeded in bridging the two worlds while Khady... well, nothing more should be revealed. The last story is for me one of the most haunting accounts about people caught in the transcontinental fault line that I have read in a long time. Brilliant in its portrayal, devastating in its substance. Yet, Khady is the one who believes in hope, in her identity and, through her experiences, gains in self-confidence: "She hadn't really lost very much, she would think later"; she wouldn't regret the past either. Going back to the attribute "puissant" in French and "strong" of the English title (or 'powerful' as some have suggested as a better translation) is worth an additional comment. At the surface none of the women are particularly strong or powerful. Their inner strength is only slowly revealed by the sensitive and richly imagined narrative. I see NDiaye's "Three Strong Women" as a kind of triptych: three distinct portrayals of women's experiences living between two continents and cultures. Seen together, they depict three alternatives of human experiences for women, and to a lesser degree for men, when exposed to the constant inner and outer tensions in their lives as they are trying to negotiate the fault lines. Marie NDiaye is an award-winning author of French and Senegalese parentage. She defines herself as a French author, born and raised in France by her mother. Her novel Trois femmes puissantes, published in 2006 won the author the prestigious Prix Goncourt 2009 in France, the first black woman ever to receive this recognition.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Proustitute (somewhat here, somewhat there)

    He'd worked so hard at persuading himself of the contrary that he was no longer sure what was true and what wasn't. The first woman of color to win the prestigious Prix Goncourt, Marie NDiaye is certainly a gifted, uncompromising writer. Her collection All My Friends was my first foray into her work, and, in some ways, the stories there are stronger than the "novel" Three Strong Women; however, similar themes of how isolating intimacy can be, how identity is subsumed beneath others: at the pe He'd worked so hard at persuading himself of the contrary that he was no longer sure what was true and what wasn't. The first woman of color to win the prestigious Prix Goncourt, Marie NDiaye is certainly a gifted, uncompromising writer. Her collection All My Friends was my first foray into her work, and, in some ways, the stories there are stronger than the "novel" Three Strong Women; however, similar themes of how isolating intimacy can be, how identity is subsumed beneath others: at the personal and cultural level, and how marginal experiences are as critical to listen to as those we encounter in more mainstream fiction are present throughout NDiaye's work. Similarly, her use of narrative skill is impressive: using both free indirect style and figural narratives, NDiaye is able to begin—perhaps paradoxically, but this is her talent—both at the highly specific and at the very general levels. Slowly, in the course of the narrative, NDiaye's omniscience and increasingly nuanced use of the figural allow the reader to be both welcomed into each characters' mindsets while at the same time ejected from them. This can make for frustrating reading, and, indeed, as some reviews have pointed out, the second part (which is the longest part and gives portraits of several woman from the perspective of a male character, Ruby, especially his wife, Fanta) can be downright infuriating to read. This is not necessarily because of subject matter, but more due to NDiaye's use of style to mimic the repetitive and flickering states of our consciousness: so when Ruby muses for ten pages—all of which take place in the time span of placing a telephone call and letting it ring without answer—about the words he said (or didn't say) to Fanta, about his meagre, unimpressive job, about how inconsequential he feels as a man, as a husband, as a father, as a son, this is NDiaye doing what she does best. In essence, she is rendering our thought processes as they take place but stretching them out in a linear fashion, unlike someone like Woolf for whom imagery and rhythm are more important. Indeed, when NDiaye makes use of symbolism it is often heavy-handed, with symbols such as buzzards, poinciana trees, crows, and so on to make appearances on nearly each page as if to stress and overemphasize their import much to the narrative's discredit. As interconnected stories, these three pieces work rather well, but as a novel it simply doesn't have the cohesion to be read in that light. The first piece deals with a thirty-something woman named Norah who has come from Paris to visit her father in Dakar at his insistence; while there, she is forced to come to terms with not only the memories of his brutality and neglect in her youth—and how this figures in his current life, and thus hers, at present—but also her dissatisfaction with motherhood and the more independent life she desires for herself and which her job as a lawyer serves to underscore. The second piece centers on Rudy and is linked to the first by way of a Proustian nom de pays; here, NDiaye captures very brilliantly a man in the midst of a midlife crisis: Rudy's crisis is as much one of masculinity as it is of nationalism and imperialism, a meditation on how the oedipal relations of one's youth are prefigurations of how one's adult relationships will form in terms of dynamics and roles. The last piece, which is perhaps the most affecting, concerns Khady's plight after her in-laws, with whom she has been living since her husband's death, force her to leave as she is childless and without a dowry. Khady's narrative is linked by way of a nom de famille to the second piece in Three Strong Women and is as much about the confines of cultural expectations of femininity as it is about the internalization of gender roles which cause women to view themselves solely in relation to men, as future mothers, and in economic rather than loving structures of kinship. To me, the translation of puissantes from the French title should be rendered as "powerful" rather than "strong" women; in addition, the blurb from the French edition of the novel is misleading in its statement: trois femmes qui disent non. NDiaye is not concerned with saying no or with resistance, or, rather, if she is, it is about the futility of these desires in a world and in relations that prevent flight and instead see the individual trapped in existential circumstances which they must accept in some way in order to quell their uneasiness, their loneliness, and their alienation. And this is indeed her strong suit. Although the book is more likely a three-star book, the project itself and the sheer originality of NDiaye's vision here are worthy of four stars, in my view, without question. She is definitely a writer to watch.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Ronald Morton

    First, a tip of the hat to the Conversational Reading blog, it’s only due to the Interesting New Books 2016 post (here) that I was made aware of this author. I really should pay more attention to the Prix Goncourt winners, but it’s sometimes difficult to remember to follow up on the books, as there is typically a lag between the win and the eventual translation. That said, I’ve yet to read a Prix Goncourt winner that was not exceptional, and that avenue requires additional investigation (like I First, a tip of the hat to the Conversational Reading blog, it’s only due to the Interesting New Books 2016 post (here) that I was made aware of this author. I really should pay more attention to the Prix Goncourt winners, but it’s sometimes difficult to remember to follow up on the books, as there is typically a lag between the win and the eventual translation. That said, I’ve yet to read a Prix Goncourt winner that was not exceptional, and that avenue requires additional investigation (like I need more books to read). As alluded to above, this was an exceptional read. It’s described as a Triptych, which is appropriate: made up of three distinct but subtly (in some small points explicitly) intertwined stories. The writing throughout is exceptional, but it’s the depth with which the characters are presented, fully formed with deep-rooted histories and complex motivations, in which the book really excels. And depth of the motivations are utterly necessary, as the portrayals of the intersections of culture between the French and West African is so utterly alien to me as a reader, and some of the actions of the characters so completely foreign to me, but NDiaye manages to make the choices and decisions understood. There is a cloying claustrophobia that suffuses each of the stories as the psychologies of the characters firmly entrenched themselves in my mind, and an unsettling closeness, of almost personal trespass, that I as a reader felt as I embedded myself in the characters lives and histories and motivations. This is especially astonishing as none of the stories are told from a first person perspective. There is a steady examination of culture, of family, and of relationships. In all of these NDiaye highlights the vulnerabilities these open within us, the great capacity for damage these allow us to cause and sustain, and these fragility with which these bind us to one another, or with which they erect walls that keep us separate. The writing is laced with an aching and anguished anger, but it also allows for compassion and tenderness, many times directed at the same situation or person. It is both effective and affective. I need to track down more of this author’s works, and I’m anxiously awaiting the publication of her new work. Her voice is strong and powerful and complex, and the stories she is telling are precise, affecting, and strikingly necessary.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Roxane

    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 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.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jim Elkins

    Limitations of Bourgeois Writing This won the Goncourt Prize in 2009, and has been reviewed ecstatically. I read the principal novella of the three, the one that occupies two-thirds of the book. It is an unappealing book: conservative and full of clichés. For me, the meliorating quality was the oddity of Ndiaye’s way of thinking. At first it appears that what matters to Ndiaye is the construction of elaborate long sentences that produce introspective surprises. Those sentences are often in single Limitations of Bourgeois Writing This won the Goncourt Prize in 2009, and has been reviewed ecstatically. I read the principal novella of the three, the one that occupies two-thirds of the book. It is an unappealing book: conservative and full of clichés. For me, the meliorating quality was the oddity of Ndiaye’s way of thinking. At first it appears that what matters to Ndiaye is the construction of elaborate long sentences that produce introspective surprises. Those sentences are often in single paragraphs, and even when she writes brief sentences she prefers them in individual paragraphs. (I haven’t checked the original French: I’m assuming that a translator wouldn’t make up such an obvious device.) As a result her thought—the inner monologue of the main character—stumbles along in single steps, as if each moment, each sentence, has to contain an insight, catharsis, or expressive image that needs to be savored, like an epigram, before the reader continues. At times the long sentences yield moments of unexpected or dense reflection that could compel a reader to stop a moment; but other times the sentences are not especially well-formed, expressive, or insightful: “That particularly striking quality of his, he recalled in the ensuing silence, a weakly panting silence that sounded as if he were phoning a far-off country with rudimentary communications, his words needing all these slow seconds to arrive, though it was only the echo of Fanta’s anxious breathing as she pondered the best way of answering his question so as to safeguard he knew not what—her dared not imagine—future interests she might have (a bubble of anger suddenly exploded in his head: what possible future could she envisage that didn’t include him?), yes, he recalled, as he let his eyes wander over the green vines with their tiny bright green grapes, over the green oaks beyond them that the property’s new owners, those Americans or Australians (who fascinated and upset Mummy because she believed the vineyard should have stayed in French hands), had pruned so savagely until the trees looked humiliated, punished for daring to let their shiny, unfading foliage grow so dense as to partially conceal the once grayish, now blond and fresh stonework of what was, after all, only a large house, though of the kind on which people of these parts bestowed the respectful name of ‘chateau,’ yes, that particularly striking impression that his own blondness, his own freshness, made over there…” [Ellipses end the paragraph in the original.] This rhythm of language, of thinking, in which a thought stands by itself and gives the thinker or reader a little shock of recognition, becomes monotonous—and not only when the longer thoughts (that is, the longer paragraphs) fail to yield any particular insight. Ndiaye thinks one step at a time, like an elderly person who takes one step, contemplates something, and then takes another step—or, because senility isn’t the issue here, like a stamp collector, who puts each treasured object in its proper place and goes on to the next, row after row. I find it oddly limiting, as if she is herself afraid of thinking in longer stanzas. All that is one reason I found this book tiring. The other is its relentlessly conventional, bourgeois mentality. The main character is tortured by his past: he has lied to himself and more or less ruined his life, and in the course of the novella he loses his job, probably his wife, and his last connection to his mother. As a reader, you’re meant to feel his embarrassment when his co-workers, his boss, and even his own child shun him. He is awkward and unreliable; he sweats and scratches himself; he can’t quite see through his own self-deceptions. At the time time, like characters from Flaubert and Zola onward, he loves middle-class life: his job, until he loses it, is designing overly expensive kitchens for upwardly-aspiring clients, and he admires other people’s kitchens. All these things—the striving, the embarrassment, the class aspirations, the ruined ineffectual self-interrogation—are stocks in trade of the bourgeois novel, just the kind of thing Barthes dissected, just the sort of thing that modern and postmodern writing have left behind. It’s sad that there are people who still need to read these narratives of ordinary class-based despair.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Sotiris Karaiskos

    The second book of the author I read and this time after the excellent impressions that the first book left me this time my impressions are more mixed. That is mostly because of the structure of the book, in essence each of its three parts is a separate story, which makes the result more unequal. In the first part we come across a family story. Its heroine visits after a long time her father with whom she has been completely alienated. Through this visit, family secrets and bitterness of the past The second book of the author I read and this time after the excellent impressions that the first book left me this time my impressions are more mixed. That is mostly because of the structure of the book, in essence each of its three parts is a separate story, which makes the result more unequal. In the first part we come across a family story. Its heroine visits after a long time her father with whom she has been completely alienated. Through this visit, family secrets and bitterness of the past are retrived and a tragedy that struck her father's house are being recruited. An interesting story that deals with the deepest way with the relationships between parents and children and the conflicting feelings that this relationship is causing. Very moving story, I really loved and I can say that is my favorite of the three. The second part can not say that I particularly liked it; the story of anger, indignation and disappointment of a man after separation did not touch me at all, while its writing seemed tedious and repetitive, more than I can endure. There is, of course, some interesting psychological deepening in this feeling of frustration and defeatism, but that was not enough to overturn the impressions. In the third part we find a very sad story of rejection that leads to a terrible migration journey. The subject is streaming extremely curent and the author, with her writing that has the unique ability to penetrate people's psychology illustrates it by transferring to us the immigrants' feelings, thoughts and dreams to complete the difficult journey they have in front of them. Another very moving and emotional story. These are the three stories that each has its interest and is written in a way I like very much. The problem, however, is that as much as I liked the first and the last story, I did not liked the second and that is the only reason I will not put the top rate. Δεύτερο βιβλίο της συγγραφέως που διαβάζω και αυτή τη φορά μετά από τις άριστες εντυπώσεις που μου άφησε το πρώτο αυτή τη φορά οι εντυπώσεις μου είναι περισσότερο ανάμεικτες. Για αυτό ευθύνεται σε μεγάλο βαθμό η δομή του βιβλίου που ουσιαστικά το καθένα από τα τρία μέρη του είναι μία ξεχωριστή ιστορία, κάτι που κάνει το αποτέλεσμα περισσότερο άνισο. Στο πρώτο μέρος συναντάμε μία οικογενειακή ιστορία. Η ηρωίδα της επισκέπτεται μετά από πολύ καιρό τον πατέρα της με τον οποίο έχει αποξενωθεί εντελώς. Μέσα από αυτήν την επίσκεψη ανασύρονται οικογενειακά μυστικά και πικρίες του παρελθόντος αλλά και μία τραγωδία που χτύπησε το σπίτι του πατέρα της. Ενδιαφέρουσα ιστορία που πραγματεύεται με πολύ βαθύ τρόπο τις σχέσεις μεταξύ γονέων και παιδιών και τα αντικρουόμενα συναισθήματα που προκαλεί αυτή η σχέση. Πολύ συγκινητική ιστορία την οποία πραγματικά αγάπησα και μπορώ να πω ότι είναι η αγαπημένη μου από τις τρεις. Το δεύτερο μέρος δεν μπορώ να πω ότι το συμπάθησα ιδιαίτερα, η ιστορία θυμού, αγανάκτησης και απογοήτευσης ενός άντρα μετά τον χωρισμό δεν με άγγιξε καθόλου, την ώρα που η γραφή του μου φάνηκε κουραστική και επαναλαμβανόμενη, περισσότερο από όσο μπορώ να αντέξω. Έχει βέβαια σε κάποια σημεία μία ενδιαφέρουσα ψυχολογική εμβάθυνση σε αυτό το αίσθημα της απογοήτευσης και της ηττοπάθειας αλλά αυτό δεν αρκούσε για να ανατρέψει τις εντυπώσεις. Στο τρίτο μέρος συναντάμε μία πολύ λυπητερή ιστορία απόρριψης που οδηγεί σε ένα τρομερό ταξίδι μετανάστευσης. Επίκαιρο το θέμα και η συγγραφέας με τη γραφή της που έχει την ξεχωριστή ικανότητα να διεισδύει στην ψυχολογία των ανθρώπων το αναδεικνύει με τον καλύτερο τρόπο μεταφέροντας μας τα συναισθήματα των μεταναστών, τις σκέψεις και τα όνειρά τους για να ολοκληρώσουν το δύσκολο ταξίδι που έχουν που έχουν μπροστά τους. Άλλη μία πολύ συγκινητική ιστορία πότε μπορεί να μη σου φέρει έναν κόμπο στο λαιμό. Αυτές είναι οι τρεις ιστορίες που η κάθε μία έχει το ενδιαφέρον της και είναι γραμμένες με έναν τρόπο μου αρέσει πάρα πολύ. Το πρόβλημα, όμως, είναι ότι όσο μου άρεσαν η πρώτη και η τελευταία ιστορία, τόσο δεν μου άρεσε η δεύτερη και αυτή είναι ο μοναδικός λόγος που δεν βάζω την άριστη βαθμολογία.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Rashida

    If you can't tell from the one lonely star up there, I did not like this book. It is three stories. That claim to be connected, therefore forming a novel. Well a name gets used in two of three stories and the main character from the third shows her face in the first, so I supposed that connects them? I don't have much time for the artifice of literature. But I feel as though that is all that book is. Really strained surrealism. Sentences that last a paragraph just because they can. I mean truly, If you can't tell from the one lonely star up there, I did not like this book. It is three stories. That claim to be connected, therefore forming a novel. Well a name gets used in two of three stories and the main character from the third shows her face in the first, so I supposed that connects them? I don't have much time for the artifice of literature. But I feel as though that is all that book is. Really strained surrealism. Sentences that last a paragraph just because they can. I mean truly, I'm as enamored of the em dash as the next girl- don't we all like to pause now and then?- but it should not become a crutch to your writing. Half the time the clauses didn't match up. The other half the writing was so strained and convoluted that she had to insert proper names to remind the person which "he" from 20 pronouns ago she- Ndiaye- is referencing. Perhaps being obtuse was a deliberate choice. I didn't find it served the story and I didn't enjoy it. But the extremely irritating form was not my biggest issue. And perhaps this has more to do with translators, publishers, and book jacket designers. But the author is the one who is most clearly attached to the book, so she's the one who will get the blame. This is supposed to be about three strong women. The stories are anything but. The first woman is cuckoo bird crazy, and I'm not being disparaging, unfortunately I'm being literal. (view spoiler)[ she ends up roosting in a tree next to her murderous, treacherous, misogynist, abusive, narcissistic, ephebophiliac father. But she's stopped urinating herself in public, so strength? (hide spoiler)] Most egregious is the second story. The book jacket tells me it as about Fanta. It is over 100 pages of her husband. His every scratch of his hemorrhoidal ass. His every whine and complaint about how horrible his middle class life is. His every raging moment both inward and outward. And fine, Fanta is married to this man, so seeing him shows me her life. And the fact that she's still sticking around must show some strength, I suppose. But I am sick and tired of being fed men's stories and being told that I can use them as a prism to view women. You want to write a story about a woman, then write a story about a woman. We are more than the men in our lives. We are separate and apart from the men in our lives. And showing me the story of that hyperprivileged man and presuming that it somehow even touches on the story of the immigrant woman of color he is married to is offensive and uncalled for. So, story three, I skimmed. I was done by that point. And it never made me want to jump back in. Just glad it is over.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Bina

    Makes me want to read more of NDiaye's work! Makes me want to read more of NDiaye's work!

  19. 4 out of 5

    Liralen

    I reacted fairly poorly to this, and I'm not entirely sure why. Three Strong Women tells the (very) loosely interconnected stories of three women, each of whom is also connected to Senegal and to France. Norah is in Senegal, visiting the father she does not quite fear anymore; Fanta immigrated to France because of her French husband (whose POV takes us through the story); Khady is trying, not entirely of her own accord, to reach France. From the beginning, I think, I was put on my guard by how un I reacted fairly poorly to this, and I'm not entirely sure why. Three Strong Women tells the (very) loosely interconnected stories of three women, each of whom is also connected to Senegal and to France. Norah is in Senegal, visiting the father she does not quite fear anymore; Fanta immigrated to France because of her French husband (whose POV takes us through the story); Khady is trying, not entirely of her own accord, to reach France. From the beginning, I think, I was put on my guard by how unhappy the book is. There's never a chance for us to get to know Norah in her life before she goes to Senegal and things get more complicated for her, and we barely see her partner as a positive force before she writes both him and his young daughter off as evil. Rudy's voice is just so wildly unpleasant that, well, I can see why Fanta is unhappy. (Part of their relationship unhappiness: they were both teachers in Senegal, and when Rudy was fired he promised -- knowing otherwise -- that she'd be able to get a teaching job in France...not clear if she knows he lied, but it is clear that she's unhappy with her lot.) And Khady, well, I don't know what to do with Khady. On the one hand hers is the voice that interests me most, but on the other hand she is so devoid of agency throughout her entire section. She develops a tiny bit, eventually, but gosh. On the subway on the way home, the day I read this, the man next to me asked what I was reading and whether it was a good book. 'It's interesting,' I said. 'I'm not sure I like it, but it's interesting.' And we talked, briefly, about how French literature (and Russian lit) is much less tie-it-up-in-a-bow than, say, American lit. (Or movies.) That's fine, really, but I am frustrated nonetheless: frustrated because I wanted more from stories 1 and 3 (and much, much less from story 2), because I am not convinced (though, please, feel free to convince me) that any of these stories is about 'women who say no', as the book jacket says, and because I am not sure how the three stories connect, other than that tenuous thread between Fanta and Khady. Also worth noting that we spend almost the entire book in the characters' heads; although there is action (of a sort, sometimes), the bigger work is internal. I don't know. Two and a half stars, rounded up, I think. I would have liked the book a whole lot better without the second story, that's for sure -- although that's on a pure enjoyment scale. Original review written 25 February 2015. Edited in November 2016 to fix some typos.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Judy

    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 eit 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.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Beth

    This book is exquisitely and powerfully written – well deserving of its Prix Goncourt – yet it is not one that I would recommend to anyone I know. The three separate stories, which relate to each other only by thin strands of connection, give us a glimpse into the strength of three Senegalese women. But their strength is not of the conquering and victorious kind. It is the burdened endurance of women who manage to pull forth some sense of dignity out of horrific circumstances. Marie NDiaye’s pros This book is exquisitely and powerfully written – well deserving of its Prix Goncourt – yet it is not one that I would recommend to anyone I know. The three separate stories, which relate to each other only by thin strands of connection, give us a glimpse into the strength of three Senegalese women. But their strength is not of the conquering and victorious kind. It is the burdened endurance of women who manage to pull forth some sense of dignity out of horrific circumstances. Marie NDiaye’s prose is gripping. Even in scenes without physical action, the psychological suspense and tension keeps the reader tightly bound. I was reminded at times of Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. Yet it is partly this powerful writing that left me heavy-hearted. I was emotionally bound to characters who were experiencing untold depths of painful emotions, which made this book a hard one to put down, and yet a very difficult one to read.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Calzean

    Beautifully written, this book comprises three stories with some common themes and threads. All stories have links between France and Senegal, the many ways men try to control women, and includes metaphors through flight and flowers. All the three main female characters show strength and a belief in their actions. The first and third stories, written from the woman's perspective were the more interesting but also the saddest. The middle story was written from the man's perspective and was the long Beautifully written, this book comprises three stories with some common themes and threads. All stories have links between France and Senegal, the many ways men try to control women, and includes metaphors through flight and flowers. All the three main female characters show strength and a belief in their actions. The first and third stories, written from the woman's perspective were the more interesting but also the saddest. The middle story was written from the man's perspective and was the longest of the three stories. The female character in this story was almost invisible. I wanted to hear from her but I the author showed her craft through her depiction of a weak man.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Nathan

    "[A]ll she knew of life was what she'd lived through" There seems to be some difficulty letting people of color into the academic mainstream. A recent study found that 90% of books reviewed by the New York Times Book Review were by white authors. What's more baffling is the response taken when this gets pointed out. There seems to be a massive knee jerk reaction of "well I don't consider myself to be racist, so why should I care the race of the author I read?", which, while not flat out biased, s "[A]ll she knew of life was what she'd lived through" There seems to be some difficulty letting people of color into the academic mainstream. A recent study found that 90% of books reviewed by the New York Times Book Review were by white authors. What's more baffling is the response taken when this gets pointed out. There seems to be a massive knee jerk reaction of "well I don't consider myself to be racist, so why should I care the race of the author I read?", which, while not flat out biased, still represents an archaic attitude. Like it or not, race still matters in the literary world. This is nothing new, and the reason that diverse lit is something to be sought out. One of the main reasons I read is for perspective. As a white American male, the lens I view the world through is pretty narrow; I can ignore many forms of oppression that occur in the world because I have never experienced them. I pick out books like Three Strong Women so that I can understand more about what I do not know, and, however minimally, to widen my frame of reference. Perhaps, then, my reading of this novel wasn't what I had envisioned it to be, since NDiaye's style focuses on the subjective above all. There are no claims to universality, there is never anything even headed, instead, she presents an anxious stream of words to show the reality that exists for her characters. Often books are presented as though they fully convey "the female experience", "the immigrant experience", "the black experience" etc., but this is not the case here. All NDiaye claims to portray are Norah, Rudy and Khady's experiences. This is part of the newness I found in the novel. There are large scale truths to be found in any single narrative, but to let it speak for an entire population would be wrong. Three Strong Women instead lives in a space where everyone is defined by their humanity, and never by race or sex as it would have been so easy to do. And NDiaye does get human nature as well as anyone else. There's a repeated motif of all the characters being able to find something angelic or demonic in others. Norah sees her father as though he's someone fallen from grace, Rudy sees Fanta as though she has wings. Both lose sight of what really makes other people up as a result. Rudy's constant romanticization of Fanta turns every minor wrong thing she does into a huge fault. Norah finds herself unable to function when she views her father as her prison keeper. Each ends up with a volatile, unhealthy relationship as a result. At first, I found the title to be a bit deceptive. None of the three women show strength in typical ways. Norah lets herself be sucked in to the trap her father laid, Fanta stays in an emotionally abusive relationship, and Khady refuses to see anything but the good in others. Maybe strong isn't the right word at all; these women are resilient more than anything. NDiaye writes at the moment where Khady's situation is the most difficult that: " she didn't lament her present state, didn't want to change it, and even found herself in a way delighted, not at her suffering, but simply at her condition as a human being confronting as bravely as possible all sorts of perils" and the same could be said about the other two. These are not tales about people moving out of hardships, instead they're stories of the moments when all three women accepting their problems and finding the power within themselves to keep going. Overall, this is quite a remarkable novel, one I plan on returning to for its perspective, voice and resonance.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Claire O'Brien

    I really struggled with the sentence structure in this book - it may have been the translation, but I found I had to re-read sentences several times to understand them. I also found the story difficult to follow at times - I don't know if it was a form magical realism, but it wasn't magical enough for that I felt, but at times I wondered what had just happened. I was also disappointed that it was three separate stories that didn't interconnect very well, beyond a connection between France and Af I really struggled with the sentence structure in this book - it may have been the translation, but I found I had to re-read sentences several times to understand them. I also found the story difficult to follow at times - I don't know if it was a form magical realism, but it wasn't magical enough for that I felt, but at times I wondered what had just happened. I was also disappointed that it was three separate stories that didn't interconnect very well, beyond a connection between France and Africa. I did like the way that the author undermined the common image of poor Africa and rich France, with some of the characters having more successful careers in Africa than in France, and her description of trying to sneak into Europe was harrowing, and in ways more should be written about it, but again the fact that I found it at times so difficult to follow, undermined the power of the story. I read it for my book club and none of the 14 members enjoyed it at all.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Martha

    I cannot help it. I am a sucker for a good NPR review.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Bernard James

    Indefatigable inner strength. The type of quiet but continuous resolve to persevere in the face of adversity is the focus of Marie Ndiaye's latest novel. By opening a window onto the lives of her central characters, she paints three separate but consistent vignettes of pedestrian interaction that expose us to multiple levels of exasperation, despair and subsequent endurance. "He was like that, implacable and terrifying." This is how Norah, our first protagonist describes her father as Three Strong Indefatigable inner strength. The type of quiet but continuous resolve to persevere in the face of adversity is the focus of Marie Ndiaye's latest novel. By opening a window onto the lives of her central characters, she paints three separate but consistent vignettes of pedestrian interaction that expose us to multiple levels of exasperation, despair and subsequent endurance. "He was like that, implacable and terrifying." This is how Norah, our first protagonist describes her father as Three Strong Women takes a leaping nose dive into the heart of Ndiaye's tale. In the process we are subjected to a vivid accounting of one man's aloof and selfish nature and the degree to which his insensitivity has wreaked havoc within the lives of his children. Several themes are on display as the narration drags us through a painful re-enactment of events from Norah's past, with frequent forays into the constructs of her imagination that align so seamlessly with the present tense that we are left wondering if she simply has an overactive imagination or is in fact going mad. She is the ambitious one. She is the responsible one. It is always she who must clean up the messy spills produced by her less competent family members...and in this sense she has become trapped within the confines of an impossibly lofty set of standards and ideals. In the next story we are introduced to Fanta; an intelligent but dispirited young woman who leaves behind a promising career teaching the children of soldiers and diplomats about the finer points of French Literature to inhabit the role of being an unemployed wife of a possessive and insecure man. What's different and uniquely unsettling about Fanta's story is the fact that we learn about her mountain of disappointment through the tortured introspection of her spouse. It is his viewpoint to which we are primarily subjected and unsuspecting, he reveals unvarnished truths about the nature of his true motivations; namely, a lack of confidence concerning his own self worth and jealousy over his wife's capacity to be loved - even as he himself is awed by the degree to which he claims to love her. He is incapable it seems, from destroying what residual affection she might hold for him as the result of his verbal abuse and a series of manipulative schemes all designed to intentionally hold her down. He knows he is killing her spirit and that part of his psyche that demands accountability cannot tolerate the reality of what he's done. At one point he likens her to "a small hen whose clipped wings prevented her from flying over the lowest fence than the brave independent human being whom he'd met at the Lycee Mermoz." He blames her for their mutual dysfunction; and yet is painfully aware that were it not for him, Fanta's potential would know no bounds. In the final chapter of the Strong Women triptych, we are challenged to contemplate the depths of one woman's remorse as she recognizes - painfully late and after the fact - just how blessed and fortunate she once was. After being cast into a state of economic and spiritual privation, Khady must come to grips with the fact that her obsessive focus on obtaining the one thing she didn't have, has ended up costing her the pleasure of experiencing the magnitude of everything else that had been within her grasp. A catastrophic turn of events tears her down to the point where she can no longer subsist on her own. Suddenly dependent on others for support, she is subjected to frequent taunts and random acts of cruelty by those who despise and take advantage of her condition. Khady must now learn how to operate and survive in the context of a painful awareness of her depravation - while at the same time, not allowing herself to become wholly defined by it. Fiction that celebrates the collective strength of Black/Brown women in and of itself is not a remarkable phenomenon; but the way in which Ndiaye specifically chooses to do so - through glimpses of the terrifying fragility of her subjects - is what makes the haunting eloquence of Three Strong Women so impactful. As readers, we are not treated to explicit acts of triumph on the part of the novel's heroines but instead, are asked to hold their hands as the author lays bare their suffering and most vulnerable moments so that we too might know what it feels like to stand tall in the face of so much adversity and pain.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Louise Silk

    Three Strong Women is actually three separate stories. The first is Norah who's come back to Senegal at her distant father's request. The second is Fanta who's left Senegal years ago and now lives a mediocre life in France with her alienated husband. And finally Khady, who is forced into exile by her in-laws following the death of her husband. I loved Norah's storyline and was really disappointed when I realized there was an abrupt halt with no ending. Fanta's story is told through the eyes of a Three Strong Women is actually three separate stories. The first is Norah who's come back to Senegal at her distant father's request. The second is Fanta who's left Senegal years ago and now lives a mediocre life in France with her alienated husband. And finally Khady, who is forced into exile by her in-laws following the death of her husband. I loved Norah's storyline and was really disappointed when I realized there was an abrupt halt with no ending. Fanta's story is told through the eyes of a very disturbed husband. The author did a great job of revealing how a person's experience leads to extreme emotional damage and then how their erratic behavior affects others in the family. Khady's situation is tragic and makes a very sad ending for the book. All three stories reveal each woman's inner strength and how each grows despite her circumstances despite all of the negative figures around. An unique well-devised book.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Robert Wechsler

    The title of this book should have been "Three Powerful Women," because this isn’t about women being strong as much as it is about the women’s power over their lives. In fact, one of the three women isn’t even the protagonist of the tale she appears in (and she appears only from her husband’s point of view). We have no idea how strong she may be. [Note: the title is generally not the translator's fault, it's a marketing decision; "Strong" sounds better and could be seen as likely selling better.] The title of this book should have been "Three Powerful Women," because this isn’t about women being strong as much as it is about the women’s power over their lives. In fact, one of the three women isn’t even the protagonist of the tale she appears in (and she appears only from her husband’s point of view). We have no idea how strong she may be. [Note: the title is generally not the translator's fault, it's a marketing decision; "Strong" sounds better and could be seen as likely selling better.] N’Diaye continuously upends the reader’s expectations. She does this, in part, through the excellent use of the third person, focused tightly on each novella’s protagonist. The first of three novellas is simply perfect, a great joy to read. The second is painful and long, a chore indeed, but N’Diaye makes it nearly worth the while. The third is painful in a very different way, and it’s splendid and short. I wonder whether it won the Goncourt for the wrong reasons. A 4.5.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Holly

    I want to give this four stars, but I had such a miserable experience reading the second novella that my tongue was permanently soured. First and third novellas were great. This is an incredibly unique piece of fiction, but also one where I'm going to stick to reading the reviews of others. I want to give this four stars, but I had such a miserable experience reading the second novella that my tongue was permanently soured. First and third novellas were great. This is an incredibly unique piece of fiction, but also one where I'm going to stick to reading the reviews of others.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Lucy Timmins

    Really moving novel (three short-ish stories?) Three women entirely unknown to each other travel between France and Senegal for various reasons. All three stories so beautifully written and with incredibly vivid characters. Sharp psychological insight runs through the novel, especially part two. Not sure why part two (the biggest story) was entirely focused on Fanta’s husband, rather than Fanta herself. Though he was a fascinating character and I did still enjoy the section. Only wish I’d have re Really moving novel (three short-ish stories?) Three women entirely unknown to each other travel between France and Senegal for various reasons. All three stories so beautifully written and with incredibly vivid characters. Sharp psychological insight runs through the novel, especially part two. Not sure why part two (the biggest story) was entirely focused on Fanta’s husband, rather than Fanta herself. Though he was a fascinating character and I did still enjoy the section. Only wish I’d have read it sooner. Would highly recommend!

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