Author: Marie NDiaye, translated by Jordan Stump
Genre: literary fiction, some mystery
I cannot tell you how excited I was when my library called to say that they bought the book I had requested. Upon hearing of Ladivine in the New York Times Book Review some weeks ago I could think of very little else. The premise of the story, promising a look into four generations of women, spoke to me. How they reacted to one another, the decisions that changed and molded them… I am a sucker for these types of books. And so, of course, I stopped every other book, on hold until I finished this gem-I only had it for a week (I ought to have known that would be more than enough time)! The NY TIMES review didn’t do it justice, and I doubt I will either… and yet, here it goes.
‘Nothing said she had to be the servant’s daughter forever.’ Those were Malinka’s thoughts- they both horrified and thrilled her. Her mother, Ladivine was an immigrant working as a house cleaner. There was no father in the picture, though Ladivine was always convinced he was looking for them. That he would come for them- that man that she loved so wholly. Aware of how hard her mother tried for her, how fragile her mother was, she was ashamed of these thoughts. She wanted more- she wanted to be like the other girls in school with affluent families. She wanted a mother to be proud of. She wanted a father to know. Finally when she was fifteen it became too much. All her desire for praise could not make a student out of her and she decided to drop out. After a summer as a nanny, she left for Bordeaux and became a waitress.
Ladivine, hurt and lost, followed behind Malinka; giving up on her dream of the man finding her so that she might keep her daughter. Malinka, who renamed herself Clarisse after a happy girl at school, runs again- not far but just enough to control the amount of room Ladivine has in her life. She meets and marries Richard Rivi`ere, deciding to be the most giving kind and placid woman that she can in order to make his life easy. Once a month she goes to visit Ladivine, never allowing her to know Richard or the child that follow. This tears Clarisse up inside, but how could she explain everything now? She couldn’t. Twenty five years go this way, the secret eating and eating at Clarisse as she tries desperately to be the perfect mother and wife. Richard knows, can feel, that his is not his wife’s true face and cannot imagine how to get to her. He loves her, but can’t reach her and eventually leaves her. Ladivine-Clarisse’s daughter, named after the mother she was not allowed to meet, tries to keep in touch.
Years go by and Clarisse meets Freddy. He isn’t handsome like her ex-husband, but he makes her feel free. She can finally show her true face and be herself which is freeing. She even introduces Freddy to both her worlds- both Ladivines. Ladivine Sylla (her mother) takes this as a wonder. Here is the man that is going to rescue their relationship- that will help her daughter come to terms. Ladivine Berger (her daughter) saw Freddy as an opportunist and user. She feared for her mother.
When news of Clarisse’s death comes out in the paper both Ladivines are broken. Her daughter is distraught and guilt ridden, unable to breathe before the trial is over. Her mother just lost everything she ever loved.
Flowing through this incredible story are three generations of women in the family, and a snippet of feeling from the fourth generation: Ladivine Berger’s daughter. I loved the pace of the story, going from one person to another. The characters were beautiful and unique. The plot was riveting. Honestly, I cannot say enough good things about it! I give it :
On the adult content scale I give it a six.
The book is out now, you should go get it!
Link to book: