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So Long a Letter

3.83  ·  Rating Details ·  4,325 Ratings  ·  350 Reviews
It is not only the fact that this is the most deeply felt presentation of the female condition in African fiction that gives distinction to this novel, but also its undoubted literary qualities, which seem to place it among the best novels that have come out of our continent. - West Africa

This novel is a perceptive testimony to the plight of articulate women who live in so
Paperback, 96 pages
Published September 1st 2008 by Greenwood Press (first published 1979)
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Aug 31, 2014 Cheryl rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 11, 2016 Paul rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A brief, well-crafted novella in the form of a letter between two middle-aged friends. The writer is Ramatoulaye; her husband, has died suddenly and she is has to remain in seclusion for four months and ten days as per her religious strictures (Islamic). The recipient is her friend Aissatou. Both women have had husband problems. Aissoutou’s husband had taken a second, much younger wife. She had divorced him as a result and had left to make a new life in America. Ramatoulaye’s husband had five ye ...more
Each profession, intellectual or manual, deserves consideration, whether it requires painful physical effort or manual dexterity, wide knowledge or the patience of an ant. Ours, like that of a doctor, does not allow for any mistake. You don't joke with life, and life is both body and mind. To warp a soul is as much a sacrilege as murder.
A comparison to Sleepless Nights is not too far apace, for what is more familiar of the epistolary form is counterbalanced by a less novelized perspective, exp
Mariama Ba has crammed into less than one hundred pages a luminously beautiful reflection of an intelligent, wilful, self-assured middle-aged woman painfully conscious of the limits of her power in a patriarchal society, that is also a hymn to the glory of friendship between women and to the strength, courage, imagination, tenderness and sensuality of women as whole human beings interconnected to lovers, children, family members and friends.

The language is elegant, fragrant of the rich, ringing
K.D. Absolutely
Apr 28, 2013 K.D. Absolutely rated it really liked it
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
If I'm being honest, I want to like this more than I do. And it's not the subject matter or prose, it's the orientation. There's an awkward angle I just can't shake.

Let me explain.

This novella is in epistolary form: a long letter from an aging widow (who is progressive by her society's normative standards, perhaps boldly and bravely so) to her great friend, Aissatou. Both women have been transformed by their husbands' decision to make them co-wives. Ramatoulaye, our heroine, recounts her strug
Jul 25, 2016 Melinda rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015
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
Aug 04, 2010 Hattie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
I read this too fast and too unfocused. I felt sentences, words and their meaning slip through the cracks of my attention and get lost. But this is only 90 pages, and it deserves to be re-read someday when I'm older and can connect more fully to the narrative. Not just because it's a wonderful book, but because I'll understand it better - or at least differently - when I'm older, when I've (maybe) had kids, gotten married, lived a longer life. It may be that way for a lot of books, we always und ...more
Mar 30, 2010 Charlotte rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
I'm overwhelmed by how brilliant this little book is. Crème de la crème of not only African and feminist literature, but literature in general.
Philip Lane
Jun 02, 2012 Philip Lane rated it really liked it
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
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,
Feb 17, 2015 Sophia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 27, 2010 GoldenjoyBazyll rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 19, 2012 David rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: worldliterature
A beautiful glimpse inside a woman's heart.
Jan 11, 2017 Sookie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
So long a letter is an intimate expose on Ramatoulaye's life as she writes a long letter to her life long friend, Aissatou. The two women have known since they were little girls and now with many children each, one is divorced and the other is a widow. The letter is written during the mourning period of passing of Ramatoulaye's husband. Being one of the co-wives, Ramatoulaye's situation in life is different from that of her friend. The two women see their lives, their future in a contrasting fas ...more
Shinjini Dey
These days I’ve been putting my marginalia into a word document after I read a book, click- save, then closing it shut. This is an exercise of memory. I want to begin every ‘review’ with the word ‘Look’. Not look, I’ve read this – or look, you have to read this or even look, here are the minutiae that I couldn’t ignore (isn’t that what most criticism is in both praise and abasement?) I say Look, I’ve begun to understand that books are not going give me the world to vigilante through and they’re ...more
Oct 22, 2009 Julia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: francais
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
A small novel that says a lot. Writing in the epistolary format doesn't give an author a lot of chance for grand dramas, but rather gives the sense of one party's perceptions, of both herself and the world around her, which doesn't exactly offer her a lot. And yet she's smart, she's hopeful, and she sees the potential for something better in the world. It's a humanist, more or less universalist (in the best sense of the word) perspective which neither fetishizes "traditional" culture (whatever t ...more
Oct 19, 2011 chucklesthescot rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 30, 2013 Stacia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013, africa
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
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
Sep 16, 2013 Kie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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
Mar 29, 2010 Crystal rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Girl Sam, Laurie, Allison
Shelves: literature
I didn't appreciate this novel when I was in college, but going through a separation myself, I got a lot more from it this reading. It's lyrical and poetic, moving in a way that's matter-of-fact and subtle.

The story of two Senegalese women discarded when their husbands took second, younger wives, a couple of moments stick out. The first, from a letter written to her husband, Aissatou writes "I am stripping myself of your love, your name. Clothed only in my dignity, the only worthy garment, I go
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
Claire Wolff
Ba's classic gave voice to the women of Senegal in the years following independence from France. A heart wrenching account of polygamous life in Muslim West Africa, from an educated narrator who helped to overthrow the structures of colonialism only to find herself trapped by the traditions of her native culture. Absolutely beloved and revered since it was first published in 1981. In English: So Long A Letter...
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first impression: heartfelt, eloquent, and well-worth reading, but a little simplistic on culture discussion 1 3 Mar 07, 2016 08:35AM  
Book Review 1 5 Dec 03, 2015 05:41PM  
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The Importance of Friendship and Fatalism in So Long a Letter 1 10 Apr 25, 2013 04:20PM  
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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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“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.” 54 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. ” 31 likes
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