The three women personifying the complicated relationship between France and Senegal in French-born NDiaye’s tripartite novel, winner of France’s Prix Concourt in 2009, need all the strength they can muster as they struggle to survive.
The novel opens with 38-year-old lawyer, Norah. Half-Sengalese, she was raised in France by her French working-class mother after her businessman father returned to his native Senegal, taking with him her beloved younger brother, Sony. When her once-powerful father asks her to visit, she drops everything to return to Senegal, where she finds him a seemingly broken man. Sony is in prison, charged with murdering the old man’s newest wife, the mother of two small girls he keeps locked in a room with a nursemaid named Khady. Soon, Norah’s Parisian live-in lover, whom she no longer trusts, shows up in Dakar with Norah’s little daughter, Lucie, and Norah is increasingly overwhelmed by conflicting pulls and loyalties. In the second section, Fanta is a Senegalese woman seen only through her French husband Rudy’s eyes. Rudy’s father ran a Senegalese vacation resort, possibly with Norah’s father, although the timeline and specifics remain vague. A bookish intellectual, Fanta was a successful teacher in Dakar before they married, but she has moved with him to France, where she finds herself unemployable. NDiaye follows Rudy, an emotionally damaged, abusive husband (not unlike Norah’s father and not unsympathetically drawn), through a disastrous day that shows the precarious position into which he has placed Fanta and their child as immigrants. The third section focuses on Khady. No longer caring for Norah’s nieces and suddenly widowed after a short marriage, Khady is forced to live with her in-laws. They don’t want her and pay a stranger to get her headed to France, supposedly to live with her cousin, Fanta. On the overland trip to the boat that will supposedly take her overseas, Khady faces one calamity after another. She thinks she has found a protector in a young man, but his desperation to escape Senegal proves greater than his affection or loyalty.
Unrelenting in its anger, pain and sorrow, but hard to put down.