This French novella narrates the experiences of a Senegalese girl who, after being rescued from slavery, is raised by a noble French family during the French Revolution. She remains unaware of her difference because of being raised in a privileged household until she overhears a conversation that makes her conscious of her race and of the discrimination it faces. After learning about her roots, Ourika lives not as a French woman but as a black person. The story then presents the struggles she faces with her newly discovered identity as an educated African lady in eighteenth-century Europe.
Claire de Duras wrote this best-seller twenty-five years before the abolition of the slave trade in France. This period was a time when not a lot of women published their work, so Duras published Ourika anonymously. It marks an important event in European literature as it is the first novel set in Europe to have a black female protagonist. Despite being a short story, this work addresses the themes of race, nationality, interracial love.