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So Long a Letter

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3.8 of 5 stars 3.80  ·  rating details  ·  3,270 ratings  ·  252 reviews
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.
Paperback, 90 pages
Published June 28th 1989 by Heinemann Educational Books (first published 1979)
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Things Fall Apart by Chinua AchebeHalf of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi AdichiePurple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi AdichieSo Long a Letter by Mariama BâDisgrace by J.M. Coetzee
African Fiction
4th out of 273 books — 222 voters
Blood River by Tim ButcherThings Fall Apart by Chinua AchebeThe Poisonwood Bible by Barbara KingsolverHalf of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi AdichieHeart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
Africa
49th out of 1,062 books — 1,022 voters


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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Cheryl
Aug 31, 2014 Cheryl rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: For the gender studies & African lit shelves
"Ebb and tide of feeling: heat and dazzlement, the wood fires, the sharp green mango, bitten into in turns, a delicacy in our greedy mouths. I close my eyes."

What you hear is the voice of the heartbroken Ramatoulaye, who has been forced into solitude (according to the dictates of Islam) to mourn the death of the husband who, when he lived, humiliated and abandoned her. This is an epistolary; a meditation on life and life's choices. It is an anguished plea from one conservative woman, to her li
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K.D. Absolutely
Apr 28, 2013 K.D. Absolutely rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to K.D. by: 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (2006-2012)
Mariama Ba (1929-1982) was a Senegalese novelist, teacher, activist and feminist. During her lifetime she was only able to publish this book. Her two other works Scarlet Song and La Fonction politique des littératures africaines écrites came out after her death. This book, So Long a Letter, originally written in French, won the first Noma Prize for Publishing in Africa in 1980 and is now considered as one of Africa's 100 Best Books of the 20th Century.

The book is basically a long series of lette
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Melinda
This novel is in the form of a letter, written by the widowed Ramatoulaye and describing her struggle for survival.

Muslim Ramatoulaye, a Senegalese abandoned wife adjusts to her new role with utter strength tinged with sorrowfulness.

"From then on, my life changed. I had prepared myself for equal sharing, according to the precepts of Islam concerning polygamic life. I was left with empty hands. My children, who disagreed with my decision, sulked. In opposition to me, they represented a majority
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Hattie
So Long A Letter by Mariama Ba

"So Long a Letter" by Mariama Ba is a spectacular book. Ramatoulaye is a widow when the novel begins. We meet her while she is in mourning. Soon, we learn about the other sorrows of her heart. Times throughout which she cried and cried. Her healing strength comes through writing this letter to Aissatou. Because the friendship means so much to her Ramatoulaye names her daughter after Aissatou. I thought this was a beautiful way of showing appreciation for a friend wh
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Emily
It is fitting to follow a reading of Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Woman with Mariama Bâ's 1980 novella Une si longue lettre, because one thing that struck me about both works is the interrelation of feminism/female roles and the larger political scene in the country at large. In this regard the two works could also form a parallel with Naguib Mahfouz's Palace Walk : in all three pieces, whether they treat of the French Revolution or Senegal's independence from France, ...more
Sophia
i thought this book was great.

the good:
1) themes. i absolutely loved the themes of women's rights, education, and modernity. i thought ba dealt with those themes well, frequently posing insightful viewpoints.
2) characters. despite the book's short length, you really get a good feel of the characters (at least, the characters that actually matter). also, ba weaves many characters' plotlines together, and it's interesting to see how all the characters are connected, how they overlap and influence
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Philip Lane
An impressive book giving the feeling of a genuine viewpoint that is so seldom expressed. We hear the voice of a woman trapped inside the social confines of Islamic sub-saharan Africa. It is a mournful voice and although she has conformed most of her life she is fully aware of the alternatives that knowledge of the west brings with it. However she is torn between the merits of tradition that she can see as beneficial - abstention from harmful substances such as tobacco and alcohol as well as cau ...more
Barbarac
I just finished this book and I'm still basking in its warmth. I haven't liked a book this much in a while and I'm feeling so much love for women all around the world right now. If a woman walked into my house right now I'd have to hug her. Despite how scary it would be to have a stranger just walking in.
So Long a Letter is a letter by a woman recently widowed to her best friend. The letter illustrates, among other things, polygamy, and how it affects women. It is such a raw and touching letter,
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Rowena
I haven't read this book since I was 13 or so but I remember loving it.
Charlotte
En résumé : un classique des études "francophones" que j'aurais dû lire il y a 20 ans... Agréable et sensible.
Pourquoi, pourquoi, pourquoi n'ai-je pas lu ce livre au collège à la place du Médecin malgré lui ou du Malade imaginaire ? Une si longue lettre est un court roman d'abord facile, avec des instants lyriques et parfois des accents "typiques" (qui ne perturbent pas du tout la lecture de qui ne connaît ni ce pays ni sa littérature : je doute fort qu'ils seraient plus gênants pour un sauvageo
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GoldenjoyBazyll
Jan 27, 2010 GoldenjoyBazyll rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to GoldenjoyBazyll by: Nanette
Shelves: african-fiction
What a moving series of memories written as a letter from one Senegalese woman to another. Often as close friends lives do.... their lives seemed to mirror in so many ways. I think about my best friend and I as we both became teachers.... we both married... we both divorced. Through happy and sad times we are always there for one another as these two women are- always loving- always right there even if our choices/ decisions are different.

The particular cultural forcus of this book presents a ve
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David
A beautiful glimpse inside a woman's heart.
Stacia
A fascinating & bittersweet look at women's roles (written by a woman) in post-colonial, male-dominated Senegal. Interestingly enough, I read So Long a Letter quite by chance after having just finished Xala by Ousmane Sembène, a male Senegalese author.

Xala centers around a story of an upper-class Islamic businessman who is marrying his third (and much younger) wife. Part of the discussions in Xala center around the roles of the wives, the resentments between them, etc.... So Long a Letter al
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Adira
So Long a Letter was a tad dry for me in comparison with other African Classics that dealt with similar feminist and nationalistic topics. Ba's book seemed to be one note due to the main character Ramatoulaye's passiveness through out the book. Even when action was called for, it seemed as if this character stalled until the last possible moment before she made a decision or did anything to take initiative in her life.

Coming in at a mere 89 pages, I felt as if it could have been trimmed to incl
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Kie
I would like to start by writing that the 3 stars was merely because it was not as engaging as novels I've read in the past. This epistolary novel by Ba is essentially one long letter and it is more for reading to learn about unfamiliar aspects of African culture or of the era rather than a book to read for pleasure. It follows family lineages and many familial relationships of a polygamous African family. There were a few particularly interesting ideals, especially the writer's views on polygam ...more
Julia
I read this book for the first time three years ago without enjoying it all that much. Re-reading the trials of Ramatoulaye and Aissatou in Dakar placed them in their proper context.

The entire text is a letter from Ramatoulaye after the death of her husband, resuming the unraveling of their marriage and recounting the story of Aissatou's own marital trials. I've yet to read a better account of the ways women navigate life in this liberal Muslim country.

Throughout, Ba's portrait of the sense of d
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Al
Really stunning.
Absolutely beautiful.
chucklesthescot
Oct 19, 2011 chucklesthescot rated it 1 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: African literature fans
A woman in Senegal feels betrayed when her husband takes a second younger wife and she confides her misery to her friend who left her own husband when he took a second wife.This book looks at a woman's place in African Islamic culture and the traditions of the villages.
It's only a short read but I didn't find it interesting enough to read right through.There was too much detail about the wedding ceremonies in the start of the book and I just switched off but if you are interested in African cul
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dely
Amica mia è un romanzo epistolare, una lunga lettera che Ramatoulaye, il personaggio principale, scrive alla sua migliore amica, Aissatou, che è andata a vivere in America. La storia è ambientata in Senegal e affronta il tema della poligamia: Ramatoulaye viene abbandonata dal marito dopo circa 30 anni di matrimonio (e 12 figli) perché sposa una ragazza molto più giovane di lui. Aissatou, al contrario, decide di abbandonare il marito quando questo sposa la seconda moglie soltanto per compiacere l ...more
Ashley
Fantastic novel by a fantastic woman. Very insightful and allowed me to enter into the mind of an African woman as she dealt with the struggles of all kinds that I was ignorant to.
Asa
This book is just what the title tells you: a long letter, written by a middle-aged, middle-class Senegalese woman to an old friend in anticipation of the friend's return to Senegal and their reunion. In the letter she talks about their school years together, their marriages and children, and the difficulties in being one of a "new" generation of women, the ones who are supposed to have it all. A lot of it is still familiar today, thirty years later, with the conflict between old traditions and ...more
Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship
A novella about a middle-aged Senegalese woman writing a long letter to her best friend following her husband’s death. The husband, we learn, had abandoned the writer five years before in order to take a second wife, a scenario repeated (with variations) among many families of her acquaintance.

This is a decent book that provides an interesting window into Senegalese life and culture, but didn’t really stand out to me. We learn about the narrator’s life, her marriage, her difficulties with her ch
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Jkapp
“Dear Aissatou, I have received your letter. By way of your reply, I am beginning this diary, my prop in my distress. Our long association has taught me that confiding in others allays pain.” Such is how Mariama Ba’s So Long a Letter opens, a prelude to a series of letters addressed to her best friend, Aissatou. While the author of those letters, Ramatoulaye remains in Senegal after over two decades of marriage and twelve children, all broken apart by a betrayal of her trust when her ex-husband ...more
Judith Shorter


The late Senegalese author Mariama Bâ of Dakar, Senegal left behind an ultimate favorite among women writers. Raised in the Muslim civilization, her views concerning marriage pertain to Islamic law and the effects of polygamy are examined in particular. This short novel, originally written in French and later translated to English, shows how polygamy affects the families connected to such a marriage.

Ramatoulaye, who is a former Senegalese school teacher, is just recently widowed and begins wri
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Amélie
Dans une ville du Sénégal, une femme perd son mari. Durant les quarante jours de l’isolement imposé par son veuvage, elle écrit à une amie, une très longue lettre où elle ressasse leur passé commun & les choix qui les ont menés où elles sont aujourd’hui. On y découvre l'effervescence des premiers temps de l’indépendance sénégalaise & les désillusions de la suite, mais surtout les dévouements & les sacrifices & les aspérités de la vie des femmes, toutes les choses avec lesquelles ...more
Alana
Jul 29, 2011 Alana added it
As I read this book, Helene Cixous' literary essay "The Laugh of the Medusa" came to mind - woman writing out of her body. I've often struggled to source examples of this but this book referred too many times on issues of motherhood, on being a wife, female friendships, female challenges and experiences that the link was easily made between Cixous' doctrine and Mariama's writing style.



This book held me. There is something tastefully appealing about a novel by an African writer. It never lacks sa
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Mylène Brunet
À l'occasion de la mort de son mari, Ramatoulaye écrit une longue lettre à son amie de toujours, Assaïtou, dans laquelle elle se remémore les moments charnières de leur existence à toutes deux. Elle évoque par le fait même avec beaucoup de justesse ce que c'est que d'être une femme dans un Sénégal où tout, du public au plus intime, se négocie autour des traditions et de la religion.

Ce texte n'est pas traduit, il a été écrit en français; c'est une véritable chance d'y avoir accès sans intermédia
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Erica
Goodreads doesn't have the French version of this book, but the French version is what I read. Maybe I would have liked it better in english because there were certain parts in the French version I'm not sure I caught, but overall the only thing I can really say was that it matched it's title "So Long a Letter" because that's really what it was. A ridiculously long and drawn out letter. If any of my friends EVER sends me a letter like this I swear I'll burn it. So, all in all, it was definitely ...more
Jamie Barringer (Ravenmount)
As a story that shows what it is like to be a woman in Senegal, this is a great novella. Mariama Ba shows aspects of Senegal society that Western women may find more distasteful- polygamy, marrying off teenagers to much older men, and various other disturbing customs- but these unpleasant sides to Senegal are tempered by other more universal and humanizing scenes that make it easy to relate to the characters. I also like the way the author works in themes of feminism and colonialism, not as phil ...more
Niklas Christensen
So Long a Letter, by Mariama Ba, is an amazing book of the sorrows of an african widow written through a letter to Ramatoulaye’s friend, Aissatou. In the beginning of the novel we meet Ramatoulaye while she is mourning over the loss of her husband. Later on we learn about the other happenings throughout her life that brought sorrow upon her heart. The friendship between the two characters, Ramatoulaye and Aissatou, means so much to them both that Ramatoulaye named her daughter after Aissatou.

The
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Mariama Bâ (1929 – 1981) was a Senegalese author and feminist, who wrote in French. Born in Dakar, she was raised a Muslim, but at an early age came to criticise what she perceived as inequalities between the sexes resulting from [African] traditions. Raised by her traditional grandparents, she had to struggle even to gain an education, because they did not believe that girls should be taught. Bâ ...more
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Scarlet Song

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“Friendship has splendors that love knows not. It grows stronger when crossed, whereas obstacles kill love. Friendship resists time, which wearies and severs couples. It has heights unknown to love.” 47 likes
“And also, one is a mother in order to understand the inexplicable. One is a mother to lighten the darkness. One is a mother to shield when lightning streaks the night, when thunder shakes the earth, when mud bogs one down. One is a mother in order to love without beginning or end. ” 26 likes
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