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Review: So Long a Letter by Mariama Bâ

November 2, 2010

So Long a Letter coverTitle: So Long a Letter
Author: Bâ, Mariama
Translator: Bode-Thomas, Modupe
Length: 90 pages
Genre: Fiction, General
Publisher / Year: Heinemann Educational Publishers / 1989
Original Publisher / Year: Les Nouvelle Editions Africaines / 1980
Source: BookMooch
Rating: 4/5
Why I Read It: It sounded really interesting.
Date Read: 09/10/10 (during the read-a-thon)

Ramatoulaye is a middle aged woman who is in mourning after the death of her husband. During her time of mourning, she writes a long letter to her friend, Aissatou. The  book is this letter. The chapters are divided by days that Ramatoulaye writes. Through the progression of the letter we hear about the pains that both of these woman have suffered because of their husbands.

Both Aissatou and Ramatoulaye were betrayed by their husbands when their husbands married second wives. The reasons were different, as were their reactions. Aissatou left her husband and moved to America with her sons. She got a great education, and did well for herself. Ramatoulaye couldn’t bring herself to leave when she was betrayed. Her husband left her for her daughters friend, and never even came back to visit. As we piece together the story, it is hard not to balk at the injustices faced by both women.

Ramatoulaye is on her own with her children, as she has been for years. She is a school teacher and has always contributed financially, only to have that money taken to be used for the new wife. We can see that she is hurt and upset, and she doesn’t know how to react. More and more we see how the customs of the culture being adhered to pushes women aside and doesn’t give them rights or a voice.

The back cover of the book says:

The novel is a perceptive testimony to the plight of those articulate women who live in social millieux dominated by attitudes and values that deny them their proper place.

And that is so true. It was great to hear about how Aissatou stood up for herself. And it was great to see Ramatoulaye grow into herself and start to stick up for herself more.

My absolute favorite part of the novel was when an old suitor comes back to try to woo her and she gets into a discussion about politics. Her insights are fabulous, and she is really a strong advocate of women’s rights. She says, on page 60-1:

‘In many fields, and without skirmishes, we have taken advantage of the notable achievements that have reached us from elsewhere, the gains wrestled from the lessons of history. We have a right, just as you have, to education, which we ought to be able to pursue to the furthest limits of our intellectual capacities. We have a right to equal well-paid employment, to equal opportunities. The right to vote is an important weapon. And now the Family Code has been passed, restoring to the most humble of women the dignity that has so often been trampled upon.’

I thought it was fabulous, her tearing a strip off of her politician friend! I loved hearing the little bit about her life, and I’m only upset that Bâ only has one other book for me to look up! I highly recommend this one.

eta: because I forgot to mention – Bâ was a Senegalese author and this book is based in Senegal. It was translated from French to English.

30 Comments leave one →
  1. November 2, 2010 12:23 pm

    This sounds like a fabulous read! Great review.

  2. November 2, 2010 1:27 pm

    This novel is on my reading list but I seem not to come across it. It sounds interesting.

    • November 4, 2010 1:00 pm

      I hope you can find a copy some day in the near future Nana. It was a great book.

  3. November 2, 2010 1:33 pm

    I can’t imagine living in a society where this happens, and is sometimes the norm. I would be filled with such frustration and sadness, and it would be interesting to read this book and see just how the women handle it. It does sound sort of sad, but also like a really interesting read. Thanks for sharing your take on it!

    • November 4, 2010 1:00 pm

      Definitely an interesting book and a completely different culture and way of life than ours. I’m glad I could share, zibilee.

  4. November 2, 2010 6:24 pm

    This sounds like something I would love.

  5. November 2, 2010 8:20 pm

    I really love that second quote. You find the most interesting books, Amy!

    • November 4, 2010 1:01 pm

      Thank you Ana! The African Writers Series is a great place to find interesting books!

  6. November 2, 2010 10:23 pm

    I’m with Ana! I love that second quote and think you find the most interesting and unusual reads. You are wreaking havoc on my wish list though. :)

  7. November 2, 2010 10:26 pm

    Sounds very interesting, and refreshingly upbeat–this sort of fiction usually leaves me feeling depressed. I was wondering where in Africa this is set? And what language it was originally written in?

    • November 4, 2010 1:03 pm

      Oops! I did forget to mention that didn’t I Niranjana. Terribly sorry. I will edit the post :) Ba is a Senegalese author, and the book is translated from French. It was depressing, but also not at the same time. The main character was just so strong, even while sad.

  8. November 3, 2010 9:17 am

    Ive read bit of this hope to read it over weekend need to clear library pile down ,all the best stu

    • November 4, 2010 1:03 pm

      I hope you really enjoy it Stu! I can’t wait to read your thoughts on it.

  9. November 4, 2010 9:39 am

    I have yet to read this one. Since you highly recommend it, I will have to read it.

    • November 4, 2010 1:03 pm

      Thank you Geosi, for trusting my recommendation :) I hope you enjoy it.

  10. November 5, 2010 8:52 am

    I have this on my bedside table! I hope to read it this weekend! So glad to hear it is to be a satisfying read.

    • November 6, 2010 8:08 pm

      I can’t wait to hear your thoughts Rebecca. I hope you enjoy it.

  11. November 6, 2010 9:01 pm

    I read this one in college and remember really enjoying it.

  12. November 7, 2010 12:56 pm

    This is one of my favorite books. Although I totally disagree with Rama’s decision to leave the door open for a possible return by her husband, I absolutely love the way and manner of her argument.

    • November 8, 2010 5:58 pm

      Yes, I wasn’t happy with that either Kinna, but it was still a really great book. Glad to hear that you also enjoyed it.

  13. November 7, 2010 7:32 pm

    Oh yay: this one has been on my radar for awhile, so I’m glad to see a blog talking about it! Unfortunately, neither my old library OR my new one has a copy of it…time to break out the ILL skills!

    • November 8, 2010 5:59 pm

      I’m glad I read and reviewed it Eva! And it will soon be on its way to you through the IBB system ;) (International Book Blogger lol!)

  14. Wills-Nita permalink
    October 10, 2012 6:15 pm

    My most favourite literature, read it when i was much younger n today i have chosen it for my review work. A GOOD BOOK IS LIKE GOOD WINE ONCE TASTED; CONSUMED ALL AT ONCE. Today so long a letter is no longer in the market LOOK FOR IT EVERYWHERE A MUST READ

  15. Ziana permalink
    August 25, 2013 2:03 am

    This book sound great .i really need to read it. Exactly what I went through sad but one has to be strong and move on with life

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