Hopes Spring Eternal

From The New York Times:

WomenAmericans have a curiously limited vision of France. We may be wild about Chanel sunglasses, Vuitton handbags, Champagne or Paris in the spring, but when it comes to the kinds of contemporary French culture that can’t be bought in a duty-free shop, most of us draw a blank. Luckily, this veil of benign ignorance is being lifted as publishers in the United States introduce American readers to a new generation of hugely gifted French writers who are reworking the boundaries of fiction, memoir and history (Emmanuel Carrère, Laurent Binet, the American-born Jonathan Littell) or of high art and snuff lit (Michel Houelle­becq). Among the recent crop of writers just reaching the top of their game, Marie NDiaye, born in 1967 and now living in Berlin, is pre-eminent.

NDiaye’s career has been stellar. When she was 18, the legendary editor Jérôme Lindon (best known as Samuel Beckett’s champion) published her first novel to high critical acclaim. Her subsequent fiction and plays have won numerous prizes and distinctions. (NDiaye’s “Papa Doit Manger,” or “Daddy’s Got to Eat,” produced in 2003, is the only play by a living woman to have entered the repertory of the ­Comédie-Française.) “Three Strong Women” — NDiaye’s most recent novel — won the Prix Goncourt when it appeared in 2009 and made her, according to a survey by L’Express-RTL, the most widely read French author of the year. That same year, NDiaye was the inadvertent cause of a national furor when a member of the French Parliament, responding to an interview in which she’d called the Sarkozy government “monstrous,” suggested in an open letter to the culture minister that Goncourt laureates should be required to “respect national cohesion and the image of our country” or else remain silent. What most disturbed people about this outburst — coupled as it was with the Sarkozy government’s increasingly ham-­fisted policies on inner-city policing and the expulsion of immigrants — was what they saw as its unspoken assumption that as a black woman of African parentage, NDiaye should have to prove herself deserving in a way that would never be demanded of white male laureates.

More here.