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Three Strong Women by Marie NDiaye

Three Strong Women (edition 2012)

by Marie NDiaye, John Fletcher (Translator)

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3342033,013 (3.17)57
Title:Three Strong Women
Authors:Marie NDiaye
Other authors:John Fletcher (Translator)
Info:Knopf (2012), Hardcover, 304 pages
Collections:Your library, 2013 Read
Tags:French literature, France, Senegal, immigration, women

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Three Strong Women by Marie N'Diaye



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English (12)  French (4)  Dutch (2)  Spanish (1)  Catalan (1)  All languages (20)
Showing 1-5 of 12 (next | show all)

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. ( )
1 vote Korrick | Oct 23, 2014 |
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. ( )
1 vote proustitute | Jul 17, 2014 |

Bird. Bird. Bird. Bird is the word.

If you like gratuitous avian symbolism, you won’t egret picking up Marie NDiaye’s Prix Goncourt-winning Three Strong Women! (see what I did there??? I CAN’T RESIST A BAD PUN!) More on our fine-feathered friends later…

The work is broken into three parts, each focusing on a different woman with ties to Senegal. Part I follows Norah, a French-born woman of Senegalese descent who finds herself returning to Africa at the strong request of her father. Part II only focuses on a female character, Fanta, peripherally, as the action follows her husband, Rudy Descas. Lastly, Part III follows recently widowed Khady, who has been sent away by her deceased husband’s family.

I have SO MANY FEELINGS about this novel. First there’s the title. Without giving too much away, the title HAS to be ironic, because the women in this book are the opposite of strong and powerful. They are walked on, manipulated, abused, and ignored by the men in their life. Sometimes survival just isn’t enough. For these women to be considered “strong,” they would have had to have learned something or evolved in some way…not merely endured. But endure they do, and usually despite the men in these intertwined stories.

And the men. Lord, the men. The only redeemable male character in the entire novel is dead before the action even begins. In Part I, we meet Norah’s father, who may or may not be involved in a death Norah’s brother is currently incarcerated for. He is probably one of the most vile characters I’ve ever come across in literature: he’s arrogant and self-aggrandizing, evasive and withholding. And deeply troubled. Case in point: Norah finds him perched in a tree several times during her time in Senegal (See? I TOLD YOU I’d get back to the birds!), which is the first iteration of NDiaye’s pervasive use of bird-related symbolic imagery. Birds, traditionally, symbolize freedom, and Norah’s father sees himself as free from responsibility for his actions, above the law and judgment other than his own. The thing that really stood out for me about Part I is the overwhelming sense of unreality that oozes from the narrative. As I read, I felt at times as if Norah were operating in an extended dreamlike state, as there were inconsistencies in the narrative (her children and boyfriend were in France…oh wait, now they’re suddenly, unexpectedly at a hotel in Senegal having lunch but Norah doesn’t really talk about how BIZARRE that is…) and a ton of Jungian symbolism (Norah pees herself several times over the course of the action, which we know, in dreams, symbolizes a loss of control).

More birds and more symbolism figure prominently into Part II, this time as a literal buzzard, symbolizing death, that stalks Fanta’s despicable husband, Rudy Descas, who also may or may not be capable of murder, just like his dear old dad (in NDiaye’s universe, men are manipulative and murderous, or mute and missing from the story). Part II follows Rudy during what the most uncomfortable day ever, and the longest portion of the story, where he says unspeakable things to his wife, is humiliated at work, deals with anal piles (Not kidding. There is a lot of ass scratching in Part II. Probably more than necessary), is stalked by the aforementioned buzzard, and is generally haunted by his past. Basically, his karma is manifesting itself all over these 100+ pages. And it’s not a comfortable read.

Part III is short, but not sweet, as it follows the widowed Khady as she her husband’s family literally packs her up and ships her out of their lives, thrusting her into the hands of those responsible for smuggling the struggling into Europe in super-shady-black-market ways. More bird imagery, as Khady imagines one the men driving her caravan of aspirational European immigrants, to be a pied crow, a South African species of crow that is black and white. Crows, as you’re probably aware, symbolize ill fortune, and Khady definitely experiences her share of that…

Overall, I appreciated the stories that NDiaye was compelled to tell, and the voices (or lack thereof) she brought to the forefront of this novel. But her style…I found her voice hard to follow and inconsistent, and her use of superficial symbolism a bit excessive…this was not a book I enjoyed reading. That said, this piece got me thinking and writing more than usual…to move the reader in that way and to initiate a conversation is a huge accomplishment and really the goal of great art. And there, NDiaye absolutely succeeded.

Rubric rating: 7.5 I definitely want to read more of NDiaye’s work, but I’m going to need to emotionally prepare myself first… ( )
  jaclyn_michelle | Nov 19, 2013 |
This book contains three stories. These stories are set in Africa and France. In the first story a middle aged woman, a lawyer, who hates her father and thinks him as the devil, is called by her father to come for a prolonged visit in her hometown. She being curious goes from France where she lives with her seven year daughter, her boyfriend and his own daughter. She comes to the town in Tanzania where her father lives just to discover her brother being accused of killing her stepmother. The story has touches of surrealism and is about a father's hold, the devil's grip, on his children.

The second story narrates an eventful day in the life of Rudy Descas, a lazy, incompetent, vile person who wallows in self pity. He is given to flights of fancy. He fights with his wife and on his way to work, is afraid of her leaving him. At work after creating a ruckus he is asked to visit an client where his faulty designs have messed things up. Sure to get fired he romes about town. Throughout the whole story he pieces together his life and the gradual degeneration of his principles and values.

The last story is about a dreamy widower. She has no means of supporting herself and stays with her poor in laws. Here she sells utensils at the market with her sister in laws. One day she is asked to leave and go to her cousin. Arrangements are made but she runs away. She meets a younger boy who promises to take her to Europe. She never reaches her destination and is betrayed by all.

The book is less about the stories but more about the internal dialogue each protagonist has in his mind. All three of them live in their own world and try to make sense of the going ons in thir life with poor results. A slow but engaging read. ( )
1 vote mausergem | May 25, 2013 |
It is brilliant writing, with an intimate psychological depth and strangeness. Certainly not a book for anyone who likes resolutions. But in the end it bothered me that all of this brilliance and skill was devoted to portraying utterly trapped women, from their promising girlhoods to their ultimate dooms. I feel conflicted about this because there is nothing untrue about it, women are trapped and trap themselves in these exact ways every day, and it's not as if we are swamped with portrayals of this. That their fates were made so beautiful and spiritual may be what disturbs me. ( )
  scatterall | Apr 10, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 12 (next | show all)
Trois Femmes puissantes is a fine book, full of NDiaye’s narrative gusto, stylistic virtuosity and command of tone. If it is less wild and strange than some of her earlier work, it is no less bold.
C’est un roman qui parle de la déchéance morale, de la bassesse des hommes envers les femmes, de l’humanité souffrante, mais qui laisse entrevoir, du fond du malheur, une possibilité de rédemption. Un livre puissant.
added by christiguc | editLe Monde, Nicole Volle (Sep 4, 2009)
added by sokotof | editLes Inrockuptibles (Aug 30, 2009)

» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Marie N'Diayeprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Casassas, AnnaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fletcher, JohnTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kalscheuer, ClaudiaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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À Laurène, Silvère et Romaric
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Et celui qui l'accueillit ou qui parut comme fortuitement sur le seuil de sa grande maison de béton, dans une intensité de lumière soudain si forte que son corps vêtu de clair paraissait la produire et la répandre lui-même, cet homme qui se tenait là, petit, alourdi, diffusant un éclat blanc comme une ampoule au néon, cet homme surgi au seuil de sa maison démeusurée n'avait plus rien, se dit aussitôt Norah, de sa superbe, de sa stature, de sa jeunesse auparavant si mystérieusement constante qu'elle semblait impérissable.
And the man who was waiting for her at the entrance to the big concrete house - or who happened by chance to be standing in the doorway - was bathed in a light so suddenly intense that his whole body and pale clothing seemed to produce and project it: this short, thick-set man standing there, glowing as brightly as a neon tube, this man who had just emerged from his enormous house displayed no longer, Norah straight away realised, any of the stature, arrogance and youth that was once so mysteriously characteristic of him as to seem everlasting.
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Follows the stories of three women who discover the power of saying no, including a lawyer who must save a victim of her tyrannical father, a Dakar teacher whose happiness is thwarted by a depressed boyfriend, and a penniless widow desperate to escape homelessness.… (more)

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