“She didn’t need them. Khady knew that she didn’t live for them….Yes, I, Khady Demba, always happy to pronounce silently her own name and to feel it was so harmoniously linked to the accurate and satisfying image she had of her own face, as well as to her Khady heart which nestled inside her and to which nobody had access but herself.” (Translated from the French)
Three women, one space between Senegal and France.
Three lives, one will to surpass fate and make one’s own choices.
Three directions from Senegal to France, one obsession with being free in both places
Norah, Fanta and Khady Demba are the three women whose stories are told by Marie Ndiaye: bouncing between West Africa and France; between dictatorial families and husbands and an almost obsessive desire for freedom; between pride and shame. A three-faceted circle of life in which connection and freedom are central.
The three stories share one of the emblematic themes of Marie Ndiaye’s work, the way the mirage of Europe affects migrants from West Africa and the consequences of displacement. Norah, a successful lawyer in Paris, is called back to Senegal by a father she knows very little about. Once back in her homecountry, she finds out that her brother has been imprisoned and this triggers changes in her life.
Fanta, the protagonist of the second novella, is a much more discrete figure who, interestingly enough, manages to occupy the central part in the story. Far from illustrating a gap between Senegal and France, she manages to bridge the two worlds and creates the most balanced of the feminine images in the collection.
And Khady Demba, the widow of a man whom she never managed to give a child, she leaves her in-laws’ house to make her own way in the world. Her destiny mirrors a classical tragedy: caught in a tentacular underground world of clandestine immigrants, forced to become a prostitute, she manages in spite of everything to find love and compassion.
Khady Demba relies on self-consciousness, highlighted in the text through mantra-like expression “I am Khady Demba.” This self-consciousness acts as an elixir that enables her to keep her head high in the most horrible situations. The awareness that she only and truly belongs to herself, and that the mere echo of her name pronounced silently has the power to give back her dignity.
Marie Ndiaye’s collection draws a curve through the lives of these three women whose strength lies in their search for meaning: be it memories, balance or freedom, the women go from a base world to their own world explosive within themselves.
A collection like a circle of destinations, of experiences, of freedom.
Review by Ioana Danaila
Ioana Danaila was born in Romania. She graduated from University Lyon 2 Lumière with a Masters in Postcolonial Literature and a First degree in French for Non-Francophone people. She has published short stories and translated books from French to Romanian. She speaks Romanian, French, English, and Spanish and teaches English to high school students in France.