Book Review: So Long a Letter by Mariama Ba

The power of books, this marvelous invention of astute human intelligence. Various signs associated with sound: different sounds that form the word. Juxtaposition of words from which springs the idea, Thought, History, Science, Life. Sole instrument of interrelationships and of culture, unparalleled means of giving and receiving. Books knit generations together in the same continuing effort that leads to progress.  


Title: So Long a Letter

Author: Mariama Bâ

Category: Fiction 

I’ve had this book in my TBR for quite a while. And when my friend got a hold of it, having found it a great read, she passed it on me to devour its awesomeness. Did it live up to the credit you ask, yes it did! Actually it surpassed!

‘So Long A Letter’ by Mariama Bâ, is a must read for all genders and more so women. As the title of the book suggests, this is a letter written by Ramatoulaye (the protagonist) to her best friend Aissatou. I like the idea that Mariama Ba, used this form of writing to tackle every single prejudice that women face in the society. When opening the letter, Ramatoulaye writes of her husband’s demise and traditions that the Muslim religion observes during the mourning period. Her husband Modou Fall, until the time of his demise, had abandoned Ramatoulaye and their 12 kids for five years after taking in a second wife. Ramatoulaye opens up to her friend on how she had to cope with the reality that her husband had married a second wife and the challenges she faced bringing up her children single-handedly.

Aissatou is not new to this situation either. Just like Ramatoulaye, her husband, Madwo Ba, also gave in to the pressure of his mother and took in a second wife. A wife he didn’t love as you’ll find out when reading. But unlike Ramatoulaye, Aissatou took a bold step and walked out of the marriage to further her studies in France which later led to her employment in Senegals’ Embassy in the United States. Through the letter, readers are led to believe that Aissatou is leading a good life which prompts her to even gift Ramatoulaye with a car. Who else dreams of such a friendship? Or rather, can you live up to be such a friend?

I couldn’t help drawing similarities between Aissatou and Daba (Ramatoulaye’s daughter). Daba has been presented as a mature, intelligent young woman who doesn’t put up with mediocrity. When her father marries her friend, Binetou, Daba is the first person to tell her mother to walk out of the marriage just like Aissatou did. Her reasoning and her approach to certain issues of life is so admirable and worth emulating. I really loved her character and how she’s been portrayed as a fierce young woman who won’t settle for less than she deserves.

Mariama Bâ has also crafted the other characters listed in this book well and despite the fact that this is a 95 paged book, I have to admit that development of the characters is simply exquisite.

The themes presented in this book are also relatable to the present day living. Among those highlighted include the polygamous marriage which is common and still present, the theme of friendship; I loved how close Ramatoulaye was with Aissatou and how she could confide in her the worst of her fears and how ugly events in her life were. The pressure women face when their children adopt behaviours that are contrary to the societies accepted code of conduct has also been pointed out with Ramatoulaye walks into her three daughters room and finds them smoking and Aissatou’s ( her daughter not the friend) pregnancy.

There’s a lot of lessons to borrow from this book which certainly makes it a must read for everyone. For men to know when to say no to family pressure and get into marriage for the right reasons and not just settle down with a woman for the mere show of it. For men to step up their responsibilities and live up to their duties regardless of the differences they have with their significant other.

This is a call to women to value themselves and know what their worth is. For them to learn to walk away when that time comes and pursue their happiness.

‘So Long A Letter’ is a short read meaning you can wrap it up in one sitting and ideal for people who don’t fancy long reads as well as those passionate about societal subjects. Sounds like your next read? Don’t hesitate. Go for it!

About the author

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 later married a Senegalese member of Parliament, Obèye Diop, but divorced him and was left to care for their nine children.
Her frustration with the fate of African women—as well as her ultimate acceptance of it—is expressed in her first novel, So Long a Letter. In it she depicts the sorrow and resignation of a woman who must share the mourning for her late husband with his second, younger wife. Abiola Irele called it “the most deeply felt presentation of the female condition in African fiction”. This short book was awarded the first Noma Prize for Publishing in Africa in 1980.[1]
Bâ died a year later after a protracted illness, before her second novel, Scarlet Song, which describes the hardships a woman faces when her husband abandons her for a younger woman he knew at youth, was published.


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