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Trois femmes puissantes by Marie NDiaye

Trois femmes puissantes (edition 2009)

by Marie NDiaye

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2601843,918 (3.16)53
Title:Trois femmes puissantes
Authors:Marie NDiaye
Info:Gallimard (2009), Broché, 320 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:français, broché

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Three Strong Women by Marie N'Diaye



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English (10)  French (4)  Dutch (2)  Spanish (1)  Catalan (1)  All languages (18)
Showing 1-5 of 10 (next | show all)

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 |
So much build up of psychological tension in the first two parts! (I had to take some breaks). Although the third narrator's experience was by far the most harrowing, her state of mind was the calmest. I felt like something about the focus on mental state, individuality, personal freedom, etc. was particularly French, but I haven't read enough French literature to be sure. Aspect I admired the most: feeling, throughout, that NDiaye was revealing incredibly perceptive things about human nature and the way we think -- reading her characters' interior monologues, I constantly thought, yes, people are exactly like that. ( )
  kgib | Mar 31, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 10 (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)

» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Marie N'Diayeprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Casassas, AnnaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fletcher, JohnTranslatorsecondary 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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