My Heart Hemmed In

Marie NDiaye, trans. from the French by Jordan Stump. Two Lines (PGW, dist.), $14.95 trade paper (296p) ISBN 978-1-931883-62-7
In this claustrophobic, slow-burning, surreal novel in the existentialist tradition, NDiaye (Ladivine) explores a contemporary French social problem. Two teachers, Nadia and her husband, Ange, find themselves suddenly and bizarrely being treated “like wretched dogs” in the streets of their small French community. Nadia has no idea why, but it keeps getting worse: a strange wound develops on Ange’s stomach, and an elderly neighbor inexplicably forces Nadia to let him into their apartment to take care of him. Nadia becomes convinced he is attempting “something like our enslavement.” To find out what’s happening, she feels she must abandon Ange on a trip to visit her ex-husband and estranged son. Clues about the reason for their mistreatment accumulate—from Nadia’s belief that her granddaughter’s name, Souhar, is “perpetuating the indignity of our bloodline,” to an imagined conversation in a language “I tried hard to forget.” The subtly executed reveal of Nadia’s heritage allows NDiaye to artfully transform Nadia’s despair, which early on reads as purely philosophical, into an acknowledgment that she is a victim of French xenophobia. Nadia’s trip provokes a startling reunion, and only afterwards does she admit that despite having “inwardly snuffed out every visible trace of my upbringing,” the best she can hope for are comments like “It’s so hard for people like you.” NDiaye proves with this revelatory and devastating book how perilous such understatement can be. (July)
Reviewed on: 05/01/2017
Release date: 07/11/2017
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