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• Sunday, March 30th, 2014

Marie Ndiaye is a French national, born in 1967 in Pithiviers, France to a French mother and a Senegalese father. Her parents separated when she was one-year-old with her father leaving for Africa and her eldest brother and herself being brought up in the Parisian suburb of Bourg-la-Reine by their teacher mother.

After finishing primary and secondary schools, NDiaye went to the Sorbonne to study linguistics, which led to her obtaining a grant from the French Academy to stay in the Villa Médicis in Rome.

NDiaye started writing in her teens with her first novel, “Quant au riche avenir”, published in 1985 when she was eighteen years old. She is the most widely read and critically acclaimed, living French writer. To date she has written adults’ and children’s novels, short stories, plays, an essay and a screen play. She received the prix Femina in 2001 for “Rosie Carpe” and the distinguished prix Goncourt in 2009 for Three Strong Women. Her stage play: “Papa doit manger”, became part of the repertory of the prestigious, Comédie Française in 2003.

Marie NDiaye left France in 2007 after Nicolas Sarkozy became president and currently lives with her husband and their three children in Berlin.

Three Strong Women was originally published in French in 2009 and in English in 2012.

Three women, three different fates and two countries: France and Senegal. In the three novellas that form this book, three women: Norah, the lawyer, Fanta, the former literature teacher and Khady Demba, the uneducated servant who becomes a childless widow, all fight against the adversity of life with an unparalleled obsessive determination.

The three stories are loosely intertwined. When Norah, in the first story, is urgently called by her estranged, unloving, overbearing, uncaring father, to leave Paris and join him in Senegal to defend her imprisoned brother, Sony, in court, she meets Khady who works in her father’s house as a maid. Norah is in her late thirties, a successful lawyer in Paris and has a seven-year-old daughter, Lucie. Norah has a complicated life. She has been living a frustratingly unhappy year of her life with her unruly, unemployed, German partner, Jakob, and his seven-year-old daughter, Grete.

In the second story, the Senegalese, Fanta, like her husband Rudy, a French literature teacher in the reputable lycée Mermoz in Dakar, has to quit her job for a teaching position in France promised by Rudy. She follows her disgraced French husband to his native province, la Gironde, in the south west of France with their young son Djibril. Once in France and without a job, Fanta becomes unhappy and reclusive. We learn about her through her lonely failure of a husband, Rudy, who feels remorse for inflicting his low self-esteem torment on his wife. He is depressed, paranoid and suffers from chronic haemorrhoids.

The same Khady Demba, the maid in the first story reappears a few years later in the third story as a destitute, childless widow. She is forced by her in-laws to emigrate to France and send them money after receiving help from a distant cousin, Fanta, who is regarded as being rich because she is teaching and therefore earning a good salary.

Khady Demba, like Norah and Fanta, is not easily deterred in the face of adversity. With an imponderable pride and a discreet unshakeable assurance, she keeps telling herself: I am me, Khady Demba. She is young, healthy and unstoppable. She knows she has nothing, really nothing to lose and additionally she has been told by her mother-in-law before leaving, that if things go wrong she is not to return back to live with them.

The author gives an insight into three types of migration between Africa and Europe and in the case of Khady Demba, the big problem of loss of life among the “Boat people” who are putting themselves in danger in the hope of better living conditions in “rich” European countries.

Through her lengthy (paragraph length) sentences and her incomparable style of writing, NDiaye describes in depth and with great accuracy, in her triptych, the suffering, unhappiness, despair and endurance as well as the distress and painful life of three women. The three protagonists don’t share the same background but nevertheless have a determination for survival and enduring hardship in common, in order to reach their target and impose their identity in a patriarchal world.

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