“That same year, NDiaye was the inadvertent cause of a national furor when a member of the French Parliament, responding to an interview in which she’d called the Sarkozy government “monstrous,” suggested in an open letter to the culture minister that Goncourt laureates should be required to “respect national cohesion and the image of our country” or else remain silent. What most disturbed people about this outburst — coupled as it was with the Sarkozy government’s increasingly ham-fisted policies on inner-city policing and the expulsion of immigrants — was what they saw as its unspoken assumption that as a black woman of African parentage, NDiaye should have to prove herself deserving in a way that would never be demanded of white male laureates.
The expectation — whether menacing or well meaning — that NDiaye should “represent” multiracial France, or be considered a voice of the French African diaspora, has often dogged her. In fact, as NDiaye is at pains to make clear, she scarcely knew her Senegalese father, who came to France as a student in the 1960s and returned to Africa when she was a baby. Raised by her French mother — a secondary school science teacher — in a housing project in suburban Paris, with vacations in the countryside where her maternal grandparents were farmers, NDiaye describes herself as a purely French product, with no claim to biculturalism but her surname and the color of her skin. Nonetheless, the absent father — charismatic, casually cruel, voraciously selfish — haunts NDiaye’s fiction and drama, as does the shadow of a dreamlike Africa in which demons and evil portents abound, where the unscrupulous can make overnight fortunes and, with another turn of the wheel, find themselves rotting in a jail cell.”