Review: Three Strong Women by Marie NDiaye

But her heart was beating gently, calmly, and she felt the same way, gentle and calm, beyond reach, shielded by her unshakable humanity.

Three Strong Women

Summary and Thoughts

In this new novel, the first by a black woman ever to win the coveted Prix Goncourt, Marie NDiaye creates a luminous narrative triptych as harrowing as it is beautiful.

This is the story of three women who say no: Norah, a French-born lawyer who finds herself in Senegal, summoned by her estranged, tyrannical father to save another victim of his paternity; Fanta, who leaves a modest but contented life as a teacher in Dakar to follow her white boyfriend back to France, where his delusional depression and sense of failure poison everything; and Khady, a penniless widow put out by her husband’s family with nothing but the name of a distant cousin (the aforementioned Fanta) who lives in France, a place Khady can scarcely conceive of but toward which she must now take desperate flight.

With lyrical intensity, Marie NDiaye masterfully evokes the relentless denial of dignity, to say nothing of happiness, in these lives caught between Africa and Europe. We see with stunning emotional exactitude how ordinary women discover unimagined reserves of strength, even as their humanity is chipped away. Three Strong Women admits us to an immigrant experience rarely if ever examined in fiction, but even more into the depths of the suffering heart. 


This was a confusing trio of stories. Each narrative has the intention of following a woman who displays strength in response to her circumstances, however, I was only able to locate this theme and follow the narrative of the first story — and even that took some time to get into. The second story, which eats up a majority of the novel, is told from the perspective of an obsessive husband. His stream of thought is hard to follow in addition to be unreliable, and his wife (this story’s “strong woman”), is more of a background character who is hard to truly know. For the entire story, as well as the third, I was confused on the passage of time, location, relationships of characters, and overall progression of the story. Moreover, the ambiguous ending of the second and third story left the theme of the novel unaddressed and muddled. Overall, I can’t recommend this novel, for despite its excellent execution of sentences and descriptions, I had great difficulty connecting to the narrative at hand.

Photo Courtesy of Goodreads

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