So Long a Letter
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So Long a Letter

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3.75 of 5 stars 3.75  ·  rating details  ·  2,393 ratings  ·  206 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 AdichieThe Liquidator by Iain ParkeSo Long a Letter by Mariama Bâ
African Fiction
5th out of 204 books — 175 voters
Things Fall Apart by Chinua AchebeSo Long a Letter by Mariama BâHalf of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi AdichieThe Stranger by Albert CamusA Grain of Wheat by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o
Best by African Authors
2nd out of 219 books — 85 voters


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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...more
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...more
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, th...more
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
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...more
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...more
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...more
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
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,...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...more
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...more
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...more
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...more
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...more
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...more
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
Deanne
A book which works as a letter to one woman to another. The chapters describes memories, some good and some bitter. There's also an insight into the way the two women are expected to react to society and changes in their own circunstances. The women react differently, and for different reasons. A short read but, interesting and hope to read more of her work.
Alisha
-Those hands, moved by friendship and a rigorous science, could not save his friend.
-If today moral fatigue makes my limbs stiff, tomorrow it will leave my body.
-man is one: greatness and animal fused together. None of his acts is pure charity. None is pure bestiality.
-What a thrilling adventure it is to turn a baby into a healthy man.
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.
Chenise
Wow, check me out, I finished another book for class. So Long a Letter is written very beautifully. By that I mean it almost has a lyrically quality to it. I was sort of reminded of Lolita in some parts... Not content wise, just a very delicate way of describing the world. That being said, while I thought the Rama described her feelings quite elegantly, I guess I never really completely connected with her. I'm not sure he letter format was the best style for me. Really beautifully written, I jus...more
Wren
When I first picked up this book I was relieved because it looked short.

I'm not generally one for literary fiction, so when I was assigned this slim volume I was glad.
But my view changed pretty quickly.

As a first person point of view, you get a sense of Ramatoulaye's personality throughout the book from her eloquence, and her sense of familiarity, and complete honesty is refreshing to read.

I really was able to get into her character,feel things as she felt them,
sympathize with her. The story sho...more
Aramis
I finally got around to this one and, though I understand why it's such a well-known text, it is not a book that I would necessarily recommend.
Allison
Beautiful portrait of a woman's struggle for self-discovery in post-colonial North Africa after her husband takes another wife.
Tara
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, Aïssatou, it is a record of Ramatoulaye's emotional struggle after her husband betrayed their marriage by taking a second wife.

This book took me a lot longer than it would have if I'd read it in English instead of French, but I think it was worth it. Mariama Ba was an outspoken c...more
David
A beautiful glimpse inside a woman's heart.
Shannon
The confusing conflicts the narrator must navigate between the old ways and the new, between a women's value and her responsibilities, are not new. Every woman must find her way through them. Though as a Sengalese women she faces some challenges unfamiliar to Western women, the strength she finds in her friendships with another women navigating the same complicated social constraints and issues, guides her to making her own choices both for herself and her daughters. One is the voice and action...more
Lindsey
I think if we read Ba's fictional letter as more of an essay about socialism, religion, family, marriage, and women, then we will be much more satisfied as readers. As a "novel," it just doesn't have enough going on- and that's not because of the length (though partially so, of course), but because characters quickly come and go and we never get any true character development outside of Ramatoulaye's own grappling with the death of her polygamous husband. I absolutely love Ba's consideration of...more
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A Review of Mariama Ba's So Long a Letter 8 166 Mar 24, 2014 01:52PM  
So Long a Letter: A Review 1 8 Apr 25, 2013 04:40PM  
The Importance of Friendship and Fatalism in So Long a Letter 1 7 Apr 25, 2013 04:20PM  
Feminism and Islam in "So Long a Letter" 1 12 Apr 25, 2013 11:34AM  
What is the position of women in so long a letter by mariama ba 3 30 Dec 23, 2012 08:39PM  
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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.” 42 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. ” 20 likes
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