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So Long a Letter (1980)
by Mariama Bâ
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A relatively short novel that deals with the challenges facing women in Africa or any traditional society. The novel is in the form of a letter written by recently widowed Ramatolaye to her friend Assiatou. Both are middle-aged Singalese women who have been friends since childhood.
Ramatoulaye meanders in her narrative, detailing her suffering when her husband abandoned her for a younger wife. She goes through the histories of wives who have gone through similar experiences, including Assiatou herself, and the choices they made as a consequence.
Very interesting insights into the social and economical conditions of West Africa. The focus here is on the situation of women especially, and how they deal with the conflict between tradition and modernity.
To Abibatou Niang, pure and constant, lucid and thorough, who shares my feelings.
To Annette d'Erneville of the warm heart and level head.
To all women and to men of good will.
It is a fitting dedication. I was not sure what to expect when I received this slim book from the library, but it gripped me immediately and pulled me into the struggles of the Senegalese widow and her grief at her husband's death, her rage at his previous decision to take a second wife, and her hopes for the future. It is a mere 90 pages, but it beautifully conveys what to me is a foreign world, completely bridges the space and time of our difference to find common ground in our humanity.
I highly recommend that you track down a copy and give this a read. I will definitely be reading [b:Scarlet Song|102850|Scarlet Song|Mariama Bâ|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1348213228s/102850.jpg|99162], the author's only other novel, written while she was dying.
Review of the Heinemann English language translation edition (2008) of the French language original "Une si longue lettre" (1979)
So Long a Letter was the February 2020 Group Read at the Goodreads Best 100 Women in Translation Group
Finishing off another half-started book, this time it is a ‘handbag’ book that’s been stashed away for months — a gentle reminder that in this most remarkable year I have got out of the habit of needing a book to read while waiting for trains, health professionals, hairdressers and friends in coffee shops. I haven’t even needed a handbag…
This classic of Senegalese literature is a perfect ‘handbag’ book because it’s a slim 96 pages, one of which is a glossary. There is an Introduction too, by Kenneth Harrow of Michigan, who tells me that this is one of the first novels by a Senegalese woman in French and that it became a foundational text for Francophone women writers. This is his summary of the novella:
Written as a semi-autobiographical account, its protagonist Ramatoulaye is a woman who came of age during the period of late colonialism, married a Senegalese nationalist and gave birth to twelve children as their country passed into independence. She faced her husband’s rejection and then his death as the country experienced the passage from colony to modern nation. (p.i)
So much for the big picture. Written as a letter to her dearest friend Aissatou (who is confusingly addressed as ‘sister’), Ramatoulaye’s letter is a cry of anguish. This husband who broke her heart by exercising a right to polygamy which is out of step in a modern nation, has just died, and though this should free her to make a new life for herself, she mourns him still. During the mourning period of forty days, Ramatoulaye revisits the anguish of her marriage ending. To add insult to injury, his choice was Binetou, the best friend of her daughter Daba, who was outraged by his decision and implored her mother to divorce him.
To read the rest of my review please visit https://anzlitlovers.com/2020/12/22/so-long-a-letter-by-mariama-ba-translated-by...
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African Writers (248)
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This novel is in the form of a letter, written by the widowed Ramatoulaye and describing her struggle for survival. It is the winner of the Noma Award.
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This is a work of feminism by Senegalese author. I enjoyed reading this story of a woman who is in the period of mourning following the death of her husband. This is a story of a woman who’s husband had taken a younger wife. It explores what this meant to have a cowife. It also explores what it is like to be a part of a husband’s family. In her writing, or journal, she writes to her friend whose husband also took a second younger wife. That woman chose to divorce. Both women are very strong women who live up to their own standards. Many good thoughts in this book. Recommended. ( )