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Marie NDiaye Raises Questions She Has No Intention of Answering

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Yet as race became a part of public discourse in France after in the past two decades, challenging the country’s colorblind ideals, the siblings’ thinking evolved, albeit with subtle differences. In 2008, Pap Ndiaye published “La Condition Noire” (“The Black Condition”), an essay on Black history and discrimination in France. NDiaye wrote a foreword for the book in the form of a short story about two sisters of different races.

Of the two sisters, the Black character, Victoire, is a successful woman who moves “among white faces” and “sees herself like them,” NDiaye wrote, while her white sibling Paula comes to believe she is Black. It’s a wistful, allusive piece of fiction, which appears to mirror NDiaye’s complex feelings about racial dynamics. “I liked the idea that at school people didn’t ask you to define yourself by this,” she said of her youth.

Until a work trip last year, NDiaye had been to Senegal, her father’s home country, only once, when she was 19. “I didn’t want to go without a reason. To do what? Be a tourist?” she said. “And it made no sense to me to meet half-siblings who would be strangers anyway. I can’t really feel more from Senegal than from Burkina Faso or the Ivory Coast.”

Even as a child, NDiaye knew she wanted to be a writer. Joyce Carol Oates was an early inspiration; as a teenager, she wrote novels in secret on a heavy typewriter that had once been the property of a bank, and was a gift from her aunt. When her first book was released by Lindon’s prestigious publishing house, Les Éditions de Minuit, in 1985, she hadn’t even graduated high school. (The same year, NDiaye, who found academic analyses of writing “boring,” got the equivalent of a C- on her final French literature exam.)

NDiaye remembers no fuss over her age when her first novel was published. “There were reviews, but nowadays it would be a different sort of event, I think,” she said. She didn’t worry about how well the book would do. “I knew absolutely nothing about publishing,” she said. “I was doing what I thought I was made for, what I loved, but I didn’t really consider the future.”

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