Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “So Long a Letter” as Want to Read:
So Long a Letter
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

So Long a Letter

3.95  ·  Rating details ·  7,646 ratings  ·  729 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 1980)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about So Long a Letter, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
Francis Muleya Perhaps it may be more specific to refer to these challenges within their cultural context. It also asks what the specific problems men cause in adher…morePerhaps it may be more specific to refer to these challenges within their cultural context. It also asks what the specific problems men cause in adhering to the demands of culture/ society. Society should redefine morality lest we exacerbate tyranny of men to the darkest hue.(less)

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.95  · 
Rating details
 ·  7,646 ratings  ·  729 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of So Long a Letter
May 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
So Long A Letter by Mariama Ba is an entry in the book 500 Great Books by Women by Erica Baumeister. I am part of the goodreads group by the same name, and I have made it a long term goal to read as many of the choices as possible. Ba was born in Dakar, Senegal in 1929. She attended school and achieved a profession at a time when women in her country had few choices outside of marriage. Ahead of her time, Ba fought for equal rights for men and women both inside of and outside of the home. So Lon ...more
Jan 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 19, 2011 rated it it was amazing
"We all agreed that much dismantling was needed to introduce modernity within our traditions. Torn between the past and the present, we deplored the ‘hard sweat’ that would be inevitable. We counted the possible losses. But we knew that nothing would be as before. We were full of nostalgia but were resolutely progressive."- Mariama Bâ, So Long a Letter

Mariama Bâ means a lot to me because she was the first African woman writer I’d ever read. I like to think I recognized her genius at age 14 when
Sep 11, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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
This book has been on my radar for quite some time. It is hailed as one of the most important feminists texts in the African literary canon. So Long a Letter is an epistolary novel originally written in French by the Senegalese writer Mariama Bâ. It deals with the condition of women in Senegalese society with a focus on the effects that polygamy has on them.

It is a letter that Ramatoulaye Fall, a recently widowed Senegalese woman, writes to her lifelong friend Aïssatou Bâ. She writes of her hus
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, e
Feb 03, 2020 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Antonomasia by: Edexcel French A-Level syllabus
Narrator Ramatoulaye's story, could, with a couple of tweaks, be the subject of a thread on Mumsnet or a similar forum frequented by middle-aged women. 'OMG my husband remortgaged our house to get flats for his younger girlfriend and her mum, and now he's died.' (Only in the novel, it's beautifully written.) In the story it may be polygamy the narrator is unhappy about in 1970s Senegal rather than separation or a mistress, but there is more similarity and relatability than the old fashioned and ...more
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
Jan 16, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  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
Oct 12, 2016 rated it liked it
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
Tamara Agha-Jaffar
Winner of the 1980 Noma Prize, So Long a Letter by Mariama Bâ, translated by Modupé Bodé-Thomas, is in the form of a long letter written by one middle-aged Senegalese woman to another. A recently widowed Ramatoulaye writes to her childhood friend, Aissatou. The two share a similar fate in that their respective spouses took on second wives. But their reactions differ. Aissatou divorces her husband, raises her children, and makes a life for herself outside of Senegal. Ramatoulaye opts to stay in h ...more
Mar 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Same rating this time around, because of the writing. Very poignant.
Interesting that I'm re-reading this at a time where I can deeply relate to Ramatoulaye & Daouda's situation - sad. My 1st reading of this classic was when I was a junior in college (2011 - 10 years ago!). At the time, I read this with a semi-heavy heart as well.

Senegalese patriarchy, Islam, the male ego, mid-life crisis, greed, loneliness, mother-daughter relationships, feminism, sisterhood, courage vs cowardice, poverty, mod
Jan 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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
An excellent Sunday afternoon read and pertinent to much that is being written and read in the media under the banner of the silencing of women today.

This short, articulate novella is actually a conversation, or a lengthy letter from one widow to her best friend, whom she hasn't seen for some years, but who is arriving tomorrow.

Our recent widow is reflecting on how she is unable to detach from memories of better times in the past, during those 25 years where she was happily married and the only
aayushi girdhar
Aug 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: senegal, feminist-lit
mariama bâ, born in the colonial french regime, and lived through the senegalese independence. she belonged to the generation of trailblazers, the ones with fire in their hearts burning down everything that tries to incarcerate them. written in 1979, this epistolary novel set the senegalese author as a pioneer of feminism in her country.

set in the same background, mariama ba transcribes her own chaotic mind as ramatoulaye, a widow whose husband left her only to marry her daughter's bestfriend.
Dec 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Excellent. How many novels by Senegalese Muslim women have you read? Particularly ones dealing explicitly with both gender and religion? This is only about 80pages long, so is a quick read, and will probably help fill a gap in your reading which, in our current political climate, should be filled as a matter of some urgency.
Aug 13, 2009 rated it really liked it
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 majorit
Apr 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing

What price the lot of African women under what has been patent patriarchal domination for years on end? Or specifically the plight of Moslem women in the continent? Of course this work excellently deals with this, and has rightly been considered something of a masterpiece for decades now. The author- now late- knew the subject matter inside out, and her 'long letter ' here to a female friend lays everything bare. How does a woman feel after being shoved aside by her husband for a very young woma
Gabrielle Dubois
English version of this book: So Long a Letter

Reading the first sentences, I feel that I will love this book and its author:
"To confide drowns the pain."
In this long letter to her female friend, Ramatoulaye tells her life, her pain, her hopes in a better future, in her children.
"The past fertilizes the present."
"And though I loved this man passionately, I devoted to him thirty years of my life, I carried his twelve children. Adding a rival to my life was not enough. By loving another, he burned
"And to think that I loved this man passionately, to think I gave him thirty years of my life, to think that twelve times over I carried his child. The addition of a rival to my life was not enough for him. In loving someone else, he burned his past, both morally and materialistically."

From SO LONG A LETTER by Mariama Bâ, translated from the French by Modupé Bodé-Thomas, 1980/1981.

#ReadtheWorld21 📍Senegal

Ramatoulaye writes a letter to her best friend Aissatou. Her husband Modou has just passed a
Whitlaw Tanyanyiwa Mugwiji
May 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: african, fiction
Absolutely loved the book. It is concise but pregnant with meaning. The book is in the form of a letter written by Ramatoulaye in Senegal to her friend Aissatou living in America. In the letter she chronicles, challenges they have gone through as women and how they have adapted or overcame the challenges. The book touches on a lot of feminist issues, including, love, marriage and divorce, polygamy, friendship, raising kids alone, extended family, politics, modernity vis-a-vis culture and religio ...more
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 Fran ...more
Beautifully written in the form of a letter between two old friends, Ramatoulaye recounts the events following her husband's death to Aissatou. She remembers how their friendship started as children, their marriages and the divorce of her friend. She tells how her husband abandoned her for a much younger wife and how she came to enjoy the independence this granted her. There is a tension between the old rituals of death and the reality of a modern society in the telling. Highly recommend, it's a ...more
Puleng Hopper
Feb 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A beautiful, optimistic, ending with a well deserved twist.
You will love and enjoy the book because :
*You are a lover of great literature.
*  It is a first novel by a Senegalese woman in French
* It was translated into sixteen languages
* it won the Noma Award  in 1980
*  It is Africa's 100 Best Books Of the 20th Century
* It is a classic, bestseller, and a must read.
* It is a kind of book that will remain with you long after you have read it.
Adam Dalva
Extraordinary concept - Senegalese narrator writes a long letter to a childhood friend detailing how both suffered when their husbands (for very different reasons) took on second wives. When this is good, it's really good. The social insights into the complicated reactions women had in polygamous situations were revelatory, and the autobiographical elements were apparent and strong.

Alas, the epistolary structure, which I was excited for, let it down a bit. There was not much logic to the idea t
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. ...more
Kiran Bhat
Feb 04, 2021 rated it really liked it
I have a lot to say about this book and its value. I think I'll save it for a longer essay, to be written later. For now, I want to compile the following thoughts.

- I find Ba's blurring of the epistolary novel and stream-of-consciousness very interesting. On one side, the novel is structured as a long letter involving a woman's reflection on her husband's death. On the other hand, the novel is more reflection than latter, free-moving in its thoughts and positionality. In many ways, the structure
Jun 25, 2016 rated it really liked it
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
Aug 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
In this pioneering novel, first translated into English in 1981, newly widowed Ramatoulaye has to spend 40 days mourning her husband's death. Five years before his death, her husband, Moudou Fall, chose to marry a second wife, abandoning Ramatoulaye and their children for all intents. During this period of mourning, Ramatoulaye pens a series of letters to her best friend Aissatou, reflecting on the challenges of being a woman, especially now that she is older, but still at the behest of a patria ...more
Alan Teder

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
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »

Readers also enjoyed

  • Les Soleils des indépendances
  • The Dark Child
  • Changes: A Love Story
  • Houseboy
  • God's Bits of Wood
  • Xala
  • Nervous Conditions
  • The Joys of Motherhood
  • The Beggars' Strike
  • The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born
  • When Rain Clouds Gather
  • Le Ventre de l'Atlantique
  • Crick Crack, Monkey
  • Maru
  • The Hairdresser of Harare
  • Death and the King's Horseman: A Play
  • Ambiguous Adventure
  • La Bastarda
See similar books…
See top shelves…
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

News & Interviews

Oh hey, we're nearly halfway through 2021! We can't really believe it either... Traditionally, this is the time when the Goodreads editorial...
55 likes · 9 comments
“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.” 66 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. ” 40 likes
More quotes…