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Mariama Bâ (1929–1981)

Author of So Long a Letter

4+ Works 1,447 Members 48 Reviews 1 Favorited

About the Author

The promising literary career of Mariama Ba ended with her death in 1981 at the age of 52, just before the publication of her second novel, Le Chant Ecarlate (The Scarlet Song), a poetic drama of a love affair between a Senegalese student and the daughter of a French diplomat. Like the works of show more many other feminist African women writers, Ba's writing challenges many prevalent stereotypes that reinforce the African woman's acceptance of her "place" in society. Her first novel, So Long a Letter (1979), which revealed her clarity of vision and persuasive rhetoric, is written in an epistolary style. The long letter from one female friend to another is a deeply moving account of a Muslim woman's innermost feelings and emotional survival following her husband's decision to take a second, and much younger, wife. The novel has been translated into more than 15 languages and has received international acclaim. In 1980 Mariama Ba received the Noma Award for the best novel published in Africa. (Bowker Author Biography) show less

Works by Mariama Bâ

So Long a Letter (1981) 1,325 copies
Scarlet Song (1981) 120 copies
Fiabe orientali (2012) 1 copy

Associated Works


Common Knowledge

Canonical name
Bâ, Mariama
Date of death
Dakar, Senegal
Place of death
Dakar, Senegal
Places of residence
Dakar, Senegal
Ecole Normale de Rufisque
primary school teacher
school inspector
Awards and honors
Noma Prize (1980, Un Si Longue Lettre)



This is a classic that I have seen on so many Women in Translation lists. So when I saw a used copy at my local bookstore I had to snatch it up.

This functions as a snapshot of a society in flux. Ramatoulaye has recently been widowed, and is writing a long letter to her best friend from her school days. The letter recounts how she got to hear: Ramatoulaye and her friend were among the first generation of girls to pursue education past grade school as their country modernizes after gaining its independence. Both women were educated for professions, both worked and also married, and both of their husbands later took a second wife down the line. But Ramatoulaye's friend took her children and left when the second marriage happened, while she herself stayed.

This book depicts a startling amount of empathy and understanding on all sides, for all the players in these dramas and why they made the choices that they did. This was very satisfying on a level of peeking into a different society level, less satisfying on a emotional level. Ramatoulaye came off a little too perfect and long-suffering to me. Where was her anger? Her fight? She does stand up for herself in important ways, here. But I definitely left this book thinking BRING ON THE QUEERS. Between this and The House of the Spirits, I just need a little break from men being terrible to women.

(I have a whole lot of thoughts, actually, about the abundance of "men being terrible to women" in Women in Translation, but this is not the time.)
… (more)
greeniezona | 43 other reviews | Mar 16, 2024 |
So Long a Letter is an epistolary novel and semiautobiographical. It is a series of letters by Ramatoulaye Fall to her lifelong friend, Aissatou. Both women are betrayed by their husbands, who take second wives, but they respond in very different ways. This is a gentle novel, not forceful like Emecheta's The Joys of Motherhood or as anti-Colonial as Nervous Conditions. Instead the reader is brought into Ramatoulaye's personal space as though these intimate letters are addressed to us, and we are invited to understand her perspective even if, like Aissatou, we would have chosen to act differently. I very much enjoyed this short novel and wish that Bâ had been able to continue writing (she died at age 52, shortly after her second work was published). So Long a Letter won the Noma Award for best novel published in Africa in 1980.… (more)
labfs39 | 43 other reviews | Dec 31, 2023 |
mmcrawford | 43 other reviews | Dec 5, 2023 |
Mariama Ba's epistolary novel of Ramatoulaye's correspondence with her friend Aissatou offers a modern perspective on being a wife and mother in Senegalese society. The women in this story see polygamy as a plague, allowing their husbands the freedom to rip out the roots of their domestic life on a whim. Ramatoulaye is also deeply concerned with raising her daughters to be educated and independent. Throughout, she faces the pitfalls of being a single mother in a fairly conservative society and facing the reproval of her community.… (more)
jonbrammer | 43 other reviews | Jul 1, 2023 |



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