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French Author Marie NDiaye's "Ladivine" is a Supernatural Story About Mothers and Daughters

Bookwitty By Bookwitty Published on March 12, 2017
This article was updated on November 2, 2017
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Photo: © Catherine Hélie

This article is part of a series of profiles of ten Francophone authors who have been long-listed for the Albertine Prize.

The French author Marie NDiaye decided very early on that she would become a writer and indeed, published her first novel at age 17. Today, at nearly 50, she has 16 novels, two of which won a Femina and Goncourt prize, and several short story collections under her belt, she has published numerous plays—this year a poetic political fable was produced in France, and she has written a few children’s books to boot.

The idea for Ladivine, the book that followed her Goncourt prize-winning Three Strong Women, was inspired, NDiaye said in an interview, “by a French woman married to a German and living in Berlin, who sees her family vacation turning into a nightmare. Around this scene other relationships were piled on: parents, grandparents with echoes, and recurrences and correlations.”

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Published in 2013 in France and out in English last year, NDiaye’s Ladivine gained immediate recognition and was long-listed for the 2016 Man Booker International Prize. NDiaye’s indomitable style in Ladivine is seamlessly transformed into English by Jordan Stump, who has translated NDiaye’s books before, making the author’s complex, lengthy sentences and the blurring between reality and fantasy accessible to the English-language reader.

Ladivine is the name of both the grandmother, probably born in Africa, like NDiaye’s father, and her granddaughter, who, like NDiaye, lives in Berlin. In between both Ladivines is Clarisse, who was born as Malinka, but takes on the name of Clarisse to invent a new identity and escape her roots and her mother, Ladivine, who she is deeply ashamed of. Yet she visits her mother in secret, and names her daughter after her. It is Clarisse’s daughter, Ladivine and her German husband who live the nightmare NDiaye had initially imagined, when they travel to an unnamed African country on holiday with their children. Their luggage is lost and much like a supernatural horror story unfolds, they see their clothes worn on the street, but some items of their clothing are not ones they had packed…

Ladivine is a series of mysterious unveilings about the ties between her female characters--grandmother, mother, and daughter--and their inner psyches spanning generations, countries, and social layers. With near clinical detachment, they are examined as they experience identity crises, marriage, divorce and...murder.


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