On November 2nd, France’s highest literary honor was bestowed upon French-Senegalese author Marie NDiaye. Of course, I was all, “Woohoo! Senegal!”

I immediately read up on the prize-winning book, Trois Femmes Puissantes (Three Powerful Women), and also on the author. But before I go down that road, let’s take a rabbit trail on the award itself – the famous Prix Goncourt.The award recipient is selected annually by the 10 members of the Académie Goncourt for “the best and most imaginative prose work of the year”. Keeping in mind the award is for ‘imaginative’, guess what the 10 members of this group are called? Les Dix. Which means ‘The Ten’. I thought that was funny. Anyway…The Ten meet up on the second floor of the Restaurant Drouant in Paris on the first Tuesday of each month (not in summers – this is France, after all) to discuss amongst themselves that year’s books. The award is announced in the fall and the recipient receives the prize money: a whopping 10 euros.

 

Isn’t that awesome? The highest literary honor in the country comes with a check worth $14.77 by today’s exchange rate. However, the book is guaranteed to zoom to the top of the bestseller list, so that’s not half bad. Last year’s Prix Goncourt winner was Les Bienveillantes (The Kindly Ones) by Jonathan Littell, an American author who writes in French.

End of rabbit trail. Back to this year’s author, Marie NDiaye.


© AFP

As I said, I was throwin’ up jazz hands about NDiaye having Senegalese roots. But in every article I read about her, she went out of her way to explain that she’s really not Senegalese. She was born in France and “grew up in a world that was 100% French.”

“My African roots don’t mean much, except that people know of them because of the colour of my skin and my name,” she said. “I don’t represent anything or anyone. I have met many French people raised in Africa who are more African than I am.

I loved that.

As excited as I was to read of a French-Senegalese author receiving this award, I was even happier to read this quotation from a woman who understands that identity is so strongly linked to where we grew up and have lived. She’s not snobbishly rejecting her roots – nor claiming to be someone she’s not.

I sometimes feel like a ‘traitor’ when I see that my American identity has been diluted by other cultures. But Marie NDiaye reminded me that our roots are just the beginning of who we are.

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Interested in reading the book? Here’s a description from the Guardian:

Trois femmes puissantes weaves together the stories of three women: Norah, who arrives at her father’s home in Africa; Fanta, teaching French in Dakar, who is forced to follow her partner back to a miserable life in France, and Khady Demba, a young, penniless African widow who is trying to join her distant cousin Fanta in France.

Buy it here.

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