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So Long a Letter

3.86  ·  Rating details ·  5,107 Ratings  ·  424 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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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…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)
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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 li
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
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
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
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.
Claire McAlpine
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
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
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 majority
Aug 04, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 25, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: translated, yorwoc-16
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 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
Sep 19, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I haven't read this book since I was 13 or so but I remember loving it.
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.
Sotiris Karaiskos
Μία γυναίκα στη Σενεγάλη χάνει τον εν διαστάσει σύζυγό της με τον οποίο ήταν παντρεμένη για τριάντα χρόνια. Αυτό της δίνει την αφορμή μέσα από μία σειρά γραμμάτων προς την αγαπημένη της φίλη να γράψει για τη ζωή και τις σκέψεις της. Μέσα από αυτά τα γράμματα περιγράφει τη ζωή της κάτω από το βάρος των παραδόσεων που θέλουν τις γυναίκες να έχουν δευτερεύοντα ρόλο και την προσπάθειά της να ξεφύγει από αυτό το στερεότυπο. Έτσι και εμείς παίρνουμε μία εικόνα για μία κοινωνία καταπιεστική, που κυριαρ ...more
Philip Lane
May 31, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 21, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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 rated it really liked it
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 rated it it was amazing
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 rated it really liked it
Shelves: worldliterature
A beautiful glimpse inside a woman's heart.
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
Jun 29, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Apr 22, 2013 rated it it was ok
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
Oct 22, 2009 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
May 15, 2010 rated it did not like it
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
Aug 27, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, senegal
Elegant and emotionally revealing epistolary novel.

For all the narrator/protagonists' talk of being Muslim, a woman, an educated woman, in a country desperately trying to find its way after colonization, the first of multiple wives, I get a sense of a person living in a world which was not strictly made for their benefit. Theirs is the burden, not the fruit of the labor. But theirs is not a state of perpetual victimhood, but of support, stoicism and dignity.
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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.” 55 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. ” 35 likes
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