Book Review: So long a letter by Mariama Bâ.


Book Review: So long a letter by Mariama Bâ.

Written by award-winning African novelist Mariama Ba and translated from the original French, So Long a Letter has been recognized as one of Africa’s 100 Best Books of the 20th Century. The brief narrative, written as an extended letter, is a sequence of reminiscences—some wistful, some bitter—recounted by recently widowed Senegalese schoolteacher Ramatoulaye Fall.

Addressed to a lifelong friend, Aissatou, it is a record of Ramatoulaye’s emotional struggle for survival after her husband betrayed their marriage by taking a second wife. This semi-autobiographical account is a perceptive testimony to the plight of educated and articulate Muslim women. Angered by the traditions that allow polygyny, they inhabit a social milieu dominated by attitudes and values that deny them status equal to men. Ramatoulaye hopes for a world where the best of old customs and new freedom can be combined.

Considered a classic of contemporary African women’s literature, So Long a Letter is a must-read for anyone interested in African literature and the passage from colonialism to modernism in a Muslim country.

Book Details

Literary awards: Noma Award for Publishing in Africa (1980)

Original title: Une si longue lettre

Setting: Senegal

Characters: RamatoulayeAissatouMawdo BaModou FallBinetou

Format: 90 pages, Paperback

Published: June 28, 1989 by Heinemann Educational Books

ISBN: 9780435905552 (ISBN10: 0435905554)

Language: English (Translated by Modupe, Bode-Thomas.)

My Review of So long a letter by Mariama Bâ.

Ramatoulaye would be so depressed and frustrated when mourning her husband’s death, that she would pour out her heart and mind in a long letter she writes to her friend, Aissatou.

Her husband, Modou abandoned her even after giving him twelve children, to live happily with a girl young enough to be their daughter.

Instead of divorcing her, he marries the younger wife and keeps Ramatoulaye as the older wife, while abandoning her.

In his defence, he loves the younger wife, so he does not care about the older woman, any longer.

After his demise, she is supposed to be accorded the rights of the head wife, but when she receives nothing, she is totally shattered, hence this letter to her dear friend.

Book Review: So long a letter by Mariama Bâ.

This is an epistolary book that reveals what Senegalese women went through in the past during the post-colonial era.

Those days, a girl is expected to get married immediately after primary school, as women’s education ends in the kitchen.

This book is a call for feminism, because through Ramatoulaye, Ba introduces us to a very strong, female character who would show that a woman is much more than just a child-bearing machine, and that women matter as much as their male counterparts.

Book Review: So long a letter by Mariama Bâ.

After her husband’s death, suitors would start trooping in, assuming that she’s in desperate need of company, because of her loneliness.

But she stands her ground and proves that a woman can dream big, and achieve great things too, with or without a man.

I love the universality of the dominant theme in this book. Ramatoulaye is all of us. Her problem is not just a Senegalese woman or Muslim problem, but a woman problem in general.

Women are mostly perceived as the weaker sex, those that are supposed to be seen and not heard. Even in this 21st century, some people still believe that a woman’s place is in the kitchen. But that is what feminism strives to erase.

Women deserve to be treated equally as their male counterparts. They matter in the society, equally and should be given their rightful positions as the co-runners of the society.

Book Review: So long a letter by Mariama Bâ.

Ramatoulaye is not a woman who strives to be the head wife, she does not even want to be numbered at all.

She just wants to be a mother to her twelve children and a wife to her husband.

But all she gets is abandonment. Her husband would marry her daughter’s best friend and then go ahead to abandon her and her kids.

In this book, Ba explores the theme of polygamy and how men hide under the disguise of religion to satisfy their own desires.

Like Ramatoulaye’s husband who would marry a second wife in the pretence that Islam allows it, only to abandon his marriage of twenty five years, for a lady young enough to be his daughter.

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This book is a wake-up call for feminism and independence. Ramatoulaye, in one of the letters, reveals to her friend that the major reason she did not leave her marriage even after the betrayal and the disrespect she suffered from her husband, is her lack of financial stability.

She does not know how to take care of her twelve children by herself, so instead of leaving like Aissatou, she stays back and endures her woes and sufferings.

I love Aissatou’s character so much. Even as far back as the post-colonial Senegal, when women had little or no right, she is still able to take her stance on a matter she would never consent to.

She does not believe in polygamy, and when her husband, Mawdo, tries to coerce her into it, she divorces him, and goes to live by herself.

She has her own voice and vision, and will not shrink herself to fit into what her husband or the society demand of her.

Book Review: So long a letter by Mariama Bâ.

Her character is so admirable that Daba, Ramatoulaye’s daughter sees her as her role model.

And when she learns that she also left her husband, she would beg her mother to leave her father too.

But after her husband’s death, Ramatoulaye would regain her voice and self-determination.

She would start to speak for herself and make her own choices and decisions.

That is why she will be able to reject the two suitors that come for her hand in marriage after losing her husband.

Book Review: So long a letter by Mariama Bâ.

I love that part of Ramatoulaye, the self-determined, independent part. The woman who would begin to exist as herself and live in her own skin.

This is a beautiful, African classic that pushes the feminist movement. Women have the right to exist as who they want to be, and not appendages of some men.

They are their own people, whole and excellent. And they should be able to take their own decisions and live for themselves, not for their husbands or the society.

Have you read the book? What do you think about it? Please share your thoughts with me in the comment section. Don’t forget to subscribe to my newsletter, and follow me on all social media platforms. Thank you for visiting Bookish Pixie.

Book Review: So long a letter by Mariama Bâ.
So long a letter by Mariama Bâ.

8 thoughts on “Book Review: So long a letter by Mariama Bâ.”

  1. I read this book about 3 years ago. I think it’s one of those books that everyone should read not just women or girls only. Nice review.

  2. I haven’t read this book, but the reviews give me a clear understanding of what’s at stake, and what trouble it is for others in different countries, in my opinion, commitments in marriage should be sacred, a particular religion permitting one to marry more than one woman doesn’t mean the care and rights of the other are denied.

  3. I haven’t read this book but I will now. I live in Senegal and when I saw the name Mariama Ba I knew it was from Senegal. Thank you for the review.


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