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A Woman's Story


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About the Author

Born in 1940, ANNIE ERNAUX grew up in Normandy, studied at Rouen University, and began teaching high school. From 1977 to 2000, she was a professor at the Centre National d'Enseignement par Correspondance. Her books, in particular A Man's Place and A Woman's Story, have become contemporary classics in France. She won the prestigious Prix Renaudot for A Man's Place when it was first published in French in 1984. The English edition was a New York Times Notable Book and a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. The English edition of A Woman's Story was a New York Times Notable Book.


Born into a working-class environment of pride and alcoholism, the woman of this story emerges strong-willed, ambitious, and full of human contradictions. She is Ernaux's mother, whose death after a harrowing decline into Alzheimer's disease compelled the best-selling French author to re-create her life. The result is a slender volume that, like its subject, discourages easy categorization. Ernaux describes it as a blend of literature, sociology, and history, but it is also a memoir, a tribute, and a healing exercise for the bereaved author-narrator. Ernaux's style shifts between detached, journalistic reportage and intimate self-analysis. Her poignant, personal novel may appeal more to readers of belles lettres--and of recovery literature--than to readers of popular fiction and biography. La Place , a companion work about Ernaux's father, is forthcoming from the publisher.-- Janet Ingraham, Spartan burg Cty. P.L., S.C.

"Infinitely original. A Woman's Story is every woman's story. [Its] power rests not in the drama of its main event but in moments that might escape unnoticed, if not for a writer desperate to recapture every last image that her memory reluctantly yields of a lost loved one." -New York Times Book Review

"[A] tender, tough and moving tribute to her mother's life and death ... In this lovely short book Miss Ernaux attempts to explain-or, perhaps, merely to understand-the complex roots and blossoms of a mother/daughter relationship by describing the life of the mother she has just lost." -Washington Times

"Nothing less than a minimalist revelation, a piece of writing so spare and sharp that it cuts straight to the heart with the accuracy of a surgeon's scalpel." -Los Angeles Reader

"[An] unadorned and powerful novel-with the calm and honesty that follow deep grief and reflection." -Booklist

"Somewhere along the way, and without losing the impact of specific details, A Woman's Story transcends the individual. Ernaux finds the truth of her mothers life, and it turns out to be not one thing, but the whole story." -St. Petersburg Times

"An act of great love and of great pain." -Bloomsbury Review

For this Prix Renaudot-winning author, childhood was not just a time of life but a cottage industry. A trilogy of books intersect at her youth: the story of Ernaux's father, told in La Place ; her semi-autobiographical first novel, Cleaned Out ; and A Woman's Story . In this work, the woman of the title is the author's mother and the story is a brief, aching requiem for an intense but qualified relationship. Ernaux's mother (she is never named), who was born in a small town in Normandy where she saw the fruition of the ``only ambition which lay within her reach: running a grocery business,'' finally succumbs to Alzheimer's disease. This life's very commonness presents difficulties for her daughter who is both ashamed of her mother and aware of the immense difficulties the woman surmounted to give her daughter something better. ``It was only when my mother . . . became history that I started to feel less alone and out of place in a world ruled by words and ideas, the world where she had wanted me to live.'' (May)

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