Review: So Long a Letter by Mariama Bâ
Title: 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
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.