Ladivine by Marie NDiaye tr. Jordan Stump

Ladivine, written by the Senegalese-French writer Marie NDiaye, known for her 2009 Prix Goncourt award-winning Trois Femmes Puissantes (Three Strong Women) came to my attention when it was longlisted for the Man Booker International Prize in 2016.

The blurb describes it as a novel about a women named Clarisse Rivière, who travels by train once a month to visit her mother Ladivine, a woman neither her husband, daughter or grandchildren, or anyone connected to her present life is aware of. They believe Clarisse, whose real name is Malinka, is an orphan and due to mixed parentage, a father unknown, she bears little resemblance to the mother she is ashamed to acknowledge.

The novel demonstrates this artifice of a life, where Clarisse spends every day trying to remove from her very essence who she really is, and while the result could be seen by some as perhaps attaining some kind of perfection, as a character she is hollow, superficial, not there. What makes it hard to accept or believe, is that there appears to be no reason for this decision, no apparent childhood trauma, no cruelty to have turned her into such a narcissist, except perhaps her isolation from normal family and social norms, being the daughter of a single, working mother who was obviously a foreigner, most likely from an African country.

“She kissed her mother, who was short, thin, prettily built, who like her had slender bones, narrow shoulders, long, thin arms,  and compact, unobtrusive features, perfectly attractive but discreet, almost invisible.

Where Malinka’s mother was born, a place Clarisse Rivière had never gone and would never go – though she had, furtive and uneasy, looked at pictures of it on the Internet –  everyone had those same delicate features, harmoniously placed on their faces as if with an eye for coherence, and those same long arms, nearly as slender at the shoulder, as at the wrist.

And the fact that her mother had therefore inherited those traits from a long, extensive ancestry and then passed them on to her daughter (the features, the arms, the slender frame and, thank God, nothing more) once made Clarisse Rivière dizzy with anger, because how could you escape when you were marked in this way, how could you claim not to be what you did not want to be, what you nevertheless had every right not to want to be?”

I admit, I found this novel strange, weird and inhuman. While I understand the author may have been trying to portray something about humanity, what results is the shadow of a human when an aspect of their humanity, their cultural and familial identity, is removed.

“And another realisation hit her at the same time, with the violence of a thing long known but never quite grasped, now abruptly revealed in all its simplicity: being that woman’s daughter filled her with a horrible shame and fear.”

Marie NDiaye by Nicolas Hidiroglou

As Clarisse, Malinka marries and has a child, who she names Ladivine, a daughter who drifts away from her family, when she moves to Berlin and who senses something missing in herself, but with no way to understand what it might be or how to resolve it. Clarisse’s husband Richard leaves her, for perhaps the same reason, again something he can’t quite communicate.

Slightly frustrated having finished the novel, which features a dog in various scenes, which may or may not be the incarnation of one of the characters, I decided to read a few interviews to discover what I was missing in understanding this weird novel by an award-winning and highly revered French novelist.

The details about Marie NDiaye’s life are telling, as are the common themes in her fiction to date. I’ll admit, I find I appreciate the novel more, for having been made aware of this background, to read it without this context, is to feel something this character, that something vital is missing!

Marie NDiaye is the daughter of a French mother and a Senegalese father she barely knows and is married herself to a white Frenchman. She, like the character Clarisse, was raised just south of Paris, and according to an interview in Le Monde, has spent only 3 weeks on the African continent, 2 of those weeks in Senegal, and was said to have felt “wholly foreign” to the continent. For me, this may explain why it feels as though Ladivine, the mother also has no heritage, it is clear she comes from elsewhere, but the author chooses not to provide the narrative any clue to that heritage or cultural reference and even when later in the book, it seems as though the daughter of Clarisse and her family visit that country, though it is never named, again the reader is kept from knowing the actual origins, except through the occasional physical description of the people, reminding us of those opening clues to her mother’s physique.

“NDiaye’s novels frequently feature biracial couples, absent or distant fathers, and strained filial relationships. Her characters often feel ill at ease within their communities, and struggle with doubts that they are not who they believe or wish themselves to be.” New Republic, The Metamorphoses of Marie NDiaye by Jeffrey Zuckerman

There is an emptiness at the core of the novel, a sad indictment of the policies of some countries in their attempt to assimilate the many cultures into one, a loss of a richness that even when unknown can be exhilarating to explore, which is why I have enjoyed so much the work of writer’s like Maryse Condé’s Victoire: My Mother’s Motherand Yaa Gyasi ‘s Homegoing who through their stories seek to explore that which they were not exposed to during their childhoods, but which they come to understand more by visiting the places or exploring through storytelling.

The article in the New Republic (linked below) is worth a read for its discussion of comparisons with Gustave Flaubert’s ‘free indirect discourse’ and how NDiaye submerges the reader into the speaker’s mind and the role of the element of fantasy, or those aspects that cause the reader to wonder whether what they just read was real or a hallucination or the product of an unreliable narrator.

Overall, an interesting read and an interesting writer and novel to read about, but that lack of a cultural heritage or interest in going there to seek it out and confront it, make me less inclined to want to read more of her work. I would however be interested in what she might come up with, should she decide to research her African roots and risk taking that inner journey that would no doubt enrich her fiction and interest this reader.

Further Reading

The Metamorphoses of Marie NDiaye, New Republic by Jeffrey Zuckerman

3 Generations Of Trauma Haunt ‘Ladivine’, NPR review by Jean Zimmerman

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Man Booker International Prize 2016 #MBI2016

MBI 2016 LogoWhile adrift from the internet and with little time to read and review, I missed this literary event, which I’ll still mention as it’s one of the literary highlights of the year for readers of world and translated fiction like me.

The prize is timely as it coincides with an increasing trend for reading translations, up 96% since 2001 though still only counting for 7% of fiction sold in the UK.

My Brilliant FriendThe most popular literature languages translated into English in 2015 were French, Italian, Japanese, Swedish and German while the top-selling author was Elena Ferrante, with her all-consuming, Neapolitan series of four books: My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay and The Story of the Lost Child.

So, from the Man Booker longlist of 13 books reviewed here, the six titles below made the shortlist for the Man Booker International Prize in 2016:

José Eduardo Agualusa (Angola) Daniel Hahn, A General Theory of Oblivion – On the eve of Angolan independence an agoraphobic woman bricks herself into her apartment for 30 years, living off vegetables and the pigeons she lures in with diamonds, burning her furniture and books to stay alive, writing her story on the apartment’s walls.

Elena Ferrante (Italy) Ann Goldstein, The Story of the Lost Child – book four in the Neapolitan saga of two friends, Lena and Lila, now adults, returning to their childhood town, dealing with life as mother’s, lovers, surviving an earthquake, tragedies of nature and humanity.

Han Kang (South Korea) Deborah Smith, The Vegetarian – Yeong-hye, seeking a more ‘plant-like’ existence, decides to become a vegetarian, prompted by grotesque recurring nightmares. In South Korea, where vegetarianism is almost unheard-of and societal mores are strictly obeyed, Yeong-hye’s decision is a shocking act of subversion.

As her rebellion manifests in ever more bizarre and frightening forms, Yeong-hye spirals further and further into her fantasies of abandoning her fleshly prison and becoming – impossibly, ecstatically – a tree. Fraught, disturbing, and beautiful, The Vegetarian is a novel about modern day South Korea, but also a novel about shame, desire, and our faltering attempts to understand others, from one imprisoned body to another.

Orhan Pamuk (Turkey) Ekin Oklap, A Strangeness in My Mind – the story of Mevlut, the woman to whom he wrote three years’ worth of love letters, and their life in Istanbul. Mevlut Karataş sells boza (a traditional mildly alcoholic Turkish drink) in Istanbul and wishes for love and riches. He doesn’t have the best of luck (falling in love with a woman and accidentally eloping with the sister) as he ages, attempts to discover what is missing from his life.

Robert Seethaler (Austria) Charlotte Collins, A Whole Life – Andreas lives his whole life in the Austrian Alps, arriving as a boy taken in by a farming family. A man of few words, when he falls in love with Marie, he has friends light her name at dusk across the mountain. When she dies in an avalanche, pregnant with their first child, Andreas’ heart is broken. He leaves the valley just once more, in WWII – and is taken prisoner in the Caucasus – returning to find modernity has reached his remote haven.

Yan Lianke (China) Carlos Rojas, The Four Books – In the ninety-ninth district of a sprawling labour camp, the Author, Musician, Scholar, Theologian and Technician are undergoing Re-education, to restore their revolutionary zeal and credentials. In charge of this process is the Child, who delights in draconian rules, monitoring behaviour and confiscating treasured books.

Divided into four narratives, echoing the four texts of Confucianism and the four Gospels of the New Testament, The Four Books tells the story of one of China’s most controversial periods, demonstrating the power of camaraderie, love and faith against oppression and the darkest possible odds.

And the Man Booker International 2016 winner was:

South Korean writer Han Kang’s The Vegetarian translated by Deborah Smith.

Vegetarian

I haven’t read The Vegetarian, but was stunned by Han Kang’s Human Acts which I read earlier this year, and reviewed here. She is a remarkable writer and thinker and it’s brilliant that her work is being recognised and will find its way to a wider audience. I highly recommend reading her work, if you are interested in extraordinary minds trying to make sense of the most troubling aspects of humanity.

To purchase any of the above titles, click here:

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Man Booker International Longlist 2016 #MBI2016

MBI logoToday the longlist of the newly formed Man Booker International (MBI) 2016 was announced. In the past, this award was made every two years to an author for a body of work, so usually an author who has written numerous novels and is recognised as having made a significant literary contribution.

That changed after 2015, which was the last year under the old rules, I remember last year, from the longlist of 10 authors you can see here, I decided to read some of the works of the Guadeloupean author Maryse Condè.

She didn’t win the prize, but she was the right choice for me. I read her childhood essays Tales From The Heart, True Stories From My Childhood , the novel Victoire: My Mother’s Mother and the masterpiece she is most well-known for Segu.

Maryse Condé

Maryse Condé

Literary Works of Maryse Condé

In addition to the MBI, there was another prize called the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize (IFFP) which rewarded one novel, a recent publication, that had been translated into English in the previous year.

In 2016, these two prizes have joined together, to become one, retaining the rules of the IFFP Prize and the name of the Man Booker International Prize. The £50,000 prize is shared equally between the author and the translator.

Boyd Tonkin, chair of the 2016 Man Booker International Prize judging panel, said:

‘For the first longlist in its new form, the Man Booker International Prize invites readers to share a thrilling journey of discovery across the finest fiction in translation.

The 13 books that the judges have chosen not only feature superb writing from Brazil to Indonesia, from Finland to South Korea, from Angola to Italy. Our selection highlights the sheer diversity of great fiction today.

From intense episodes of passion to miniature historical epics; from eerie fables of family strife to character-driven chronicles of urban life, this list showcases fiction that crosses every border. It also pays tribute to the skill and dedication of the first-rate translators who convey it to English-language readers.’

Thirteen books have been announced on the longlist:

José Eduardo Agualusa (Angola) Daniel Hahn, A General Theory of Oblivion – On the eve of Angolan independence an agoraphobic woman bricks herself into her apartment for 30 years, living off vegetables and the pigeons she lures in with diamonds, burning her furniture and books to stay alive, writing her story on the apartment’s walls.

Elena Ferrante (Italy) Ann Goldstein, The Story of the Lost Child – book four in the Neapolitan saga of two friends, Lena and Lila, now adults, returning to their childhood town, dealing with life as mother’s, lovers, surviving an earthquake, tragedies of nature and humanity.

Han Kang (South Korea) Deborah Smith, The Vegetarian – Yeong-hye, seeking a more ‘plant-like’ existence, decides to become a vegetarian, prompted by grotesque recurring nightmares. In South Korea, where vegetarianism is almost unheard-of and societal mores are strictly obeyed, Yeong-hye’s decision is a shocking act of subversion.

Maylis de Kerangal (France) Jessica Moore, Mend the Living – takes place over twenty-four hours surrounding a fatal accident and a resulting heart transplant as life is taken from a young man and given to a woman close to death, examining the deepest feelings of everyone involved.

Eka Kurniawan (Indonesia) Labodalih Sembiring, Man Tiger – A slim, wry story set in an unnamed town near the Indian Ocean, Man Tiger tells the story of two interlinked and tormented families, and of Margio, an ordinary half-city, half-rural youngster who also happens to be half-man, half-supernatural female white tiger.

Yan Lianke (China) Carlos Rojas, The Four Books – In the ninety-ninth district of a sprawling labour camp, the Author, Musician, Scholar, Theologian and Technician are undergoing Re-education, to restore their revolutionary zeal and credentials. In charge of this process is the Child, who delights in draconian rules, monitoring behaviour and confiscating treasured books.

Divided into four narratives, echoing the four texts of Confucianism and the four Gospels of the New Testament, The Four Books tells the story of one of China’s most controversial periods, demonstrating the power of camaraderie, love and faith against oppression and the darkest possible odds.

Fiston Mwanza Mujila (Democratic Republic of Congo/Austria) Roland Glasser, Tram 83 – In a war-torn African city-state tourists converge with students, ex-pats and locals. Their one desire: to make a fortune by exploiting the wealth of the country, both mineral and human. As night falls, they go out to drink, dance, eat and abandon themselves in Tram 83, the only night-club of the city, a den of all iniquities. An African-rhapsody novel infused with the rhythms of jazz.

Raduan Nassar (Brazil) Stefan Tobler, A Cup of Rage – A pair of lovers – a young female journalist and an older man who owns an isolated farm in the Brazilian outback – spend the night together. The next day they proceed to destroy each other. Erotic cult novel by one of Brazil’s most infamous modernist writers explores alienation, the desire to dominate and the wish to be dominated.

Marie NDiaye (France) Jordan Stump, Ladivine – a psychological tale of a trauma that ensnares three generations of women, via a woman captive to a secret shame. Once a month, Clarisse Rivière leaves her family and secretly takes the train to visit her mother, Ladivine. Just as Clarisse’s husband and daughter know nothing of Ladivine, Clarisse has hidden nearly every aspect of her adult life from this woman, whom she dreads, despises but also pities.

Kenzaburō Ōe (Japan) Deborah Boliner Boem, Death by Water – his recurring protagonist and literary alter-ego returns to his hometown village in search of a red suitcase fabled to hold documents revealing the details of his father’s death during WWII: details that will serve as the foundation for his new, and final, novel.

Aki Ollikainen (Finland) Emily Jeremiah & Fleur JeremiahWhite Hunger – 1867: a year of devastating famine in Finland. Marja, a farmer’s wife from the north, sets off on foot through the snow with her two young children. Their goal: St Petersburg, where people say there is bread. Others are also heading south, just as desperate to survive.

Orhan Pamuk (Turkey) Ekin Oklap, A Strangeness in My Mind – the story of Mevlut, the woman to whom he wrote three years’ worth of love letters, and their life in Istanbul. Mevlut Karataş sells boza (a traditional mildly alcoholic Turkish drink) in Istanbul and wishes for love and riches. He doesn’t have the best of luck (falling in love with a woman and accidentally eloping with the sister) as he ages, attempts to discover what is missing from his life.

Robert Seethaler (Austria) Charlotte Collins, A Whole Life – Andreas lives his whole life in the Austrian Alps, arriving as a boy taken in by a farming family. A man of few words, when he falls in love with Marie, he has friends light her name at dusk across the mountain. When she dies in an avalanche, pregnant with their first child, Andreas’ heart is broken. He leaves the valley just once more, in WWII – and is taken prisoner in the Caucasus – returning to find modernity has reached his remote haven.

*****

A fabulous lineup of books and authors across countries and languages. I have read two of the books, Elena Ferrante’s The Story of the Lost Child and Aki Ollikainen’s White Hunger, both of which are excellent, and although I haven’t read The Vegetarian, I have read Han Kang’s more recent novel Human Acts which was brilliant!

I’d love to read Marie NDiaye, Orhan Pamuk, Kenzaburō Ōe, Robert Seethaler, Yan Lianke, they all sound fantastic. And Man Tiger sounds interesting, and I definitely want to read more of Han Kang!

A shortlist of six books will be announced on 14 April.

So many great reads, which of these sounds the most appealing to you? Have you read any already?

Further Reading

The Guardian ArticleMan Booker International 2016 longlist includes banned and pseudonymous authors

Purchase A Book:

If you wish to buy one of the above books, you can do so via the Book Depository link below, with whom I have an affiliation.

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