cover image Self-Portrait in Green: 10th Anniversary Edition

Self-Portrait in Green: 10th Anniversary Edition

Marie Ndiaye, trans. from the French by Jordan Stump. Two Lines, $16.95 (110p) ISBN 978-1-949641-48-6

This thrillingly unconventional story from Ndiaye (That Time of Year) is all the more beguiling for resisting easy categorization or interpretation. Existing in an undefined space between fiction and memoir, the narrative is structured around a series of “green women” that the unnamed narrator, a French mother of five in her 30s, encounters in Marseille and Paris, among other locations. These elusive, agitated, green-clad figures are imbued with a “glimmer of unreality,” and their uneasiness extends to the narrator herself. Among the green women are the narrator’s estranged childhood best friend who has married the narrator’s father, the narrator’s mother, and a woman named Katia who the narrator witnesses throwing herself off her own balcony and, upon seeing the narrator a moment later, nonchalantly offers to serve her coffee. These women all face unresolved difficulties: Katia’s husband is an emotionally absent alcoholic and her grown children are distant; the narrator’s mother remarries, but suffers financial trouble and contends with the belief that “she hasn’t led a worthwhile life” (“My mother is a woman in green, untouchable, disappointing, infinitely mutable, very cold, able, by force of will, to become very beautiful, and able, too, not to want to”). With sharp, often clipped prose, Ndiaye brilliantly captures the narrator’s unrest as she grapples with the meaning of the green women: “how not to see, in the apparent coincidence of my father’s remarriage and the transformation of my friend into an eternal woman in green, a message for me... how to read that message I don’t yet know.” Ndiaye’s restless, haunting inquiry will linger in readers’ minds. (Sept.)