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Catching Up to Marie NDiaye

A 1994 novel from the French-Senegalese sensation makes for a remarkable reading experience in 2020, a testament to the writer’s power and the translator’s art.

In the month since we published That Time of Year, the latest translation of Marie NDiaye from the great Jordan Stump, the novel has been called “utterly compelling in tone, plot, and style” (Kirkus Reviews) “gorgeously eerie” (Kirkus Reviews again), “a biting, brilliant exposé on class and privilege, entitlement and hypocrisy, power and control” (Shelf Awareness), and “hauntingly real” (New York Times). It’s all hauntingly true, a fact made all the more incredible when you learn that NDiaye originally published Un Temps de Saison, the work that became TTOY, in France in 1994, over twenty-five years ago.

It is so very NDiaye to provide our tumultuous present with “a haunting reinvention of the literary horror story” (Chicago Review of Books) from the distant 1990s. It speaks to her work’s durability, its seemingly evergreen ingenuity on the page, as well as the stubborn longevity of what may be her greatest theme: otherness and the sinister, often invisible cultural scaffolding that maintains it. Not to mention the long and unpredictable life that translations lend a work, allowing it to appear anew—in bookstores, libraries, newspapers, even festive Spooky Reads listicles—decades after initial publication.

It’s worth noting that this past week Jordan Stump was awarded the National Translation Award in Prose from ALTA (The American Literary Translators Association) for The Cheffe, another novel from the prolific NDiaye, one that led Madeleine Schwartz to proclaim in the New York Review of Books that “Marie NDiaye is so intelligent, so composed, so good, that any description of her work feels like an understatement.”

We celebrated our edition of That Time of Year with a conversation between Stump and scholar Imani Perry, author of Breathe: A Letter to My Sons and Vexy Thing: On Gender and Liberation, hosted by our friends at Community Bookstore in Brooklyn, NY. You can watch the conversation here. 

If you’re reading this, chances are good you’ve already encountered a work or two from the Prix Goncourt-winning writer. If you have not, I implore you to get going! That Time of Year, with its insistent rain and ghostly apparitions, is a pretty fantastic place to start, offering, in a slim package, all the menace, unease, and stylistic brilliance for which NDiaye is beloved.