So Long a Letter by Mariama BâSo 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 Long A Letter is an autobiographical novella, in which Ba professes her desire to see equality amongst all people come to her country.
Ramatoulaye is in the mourning period for her husband Modou. Prior to his death, he abandoned her for a woman half of her age despite having twelve children with her. Rather than divorcing Ramatoulaye, she becomes a co-wife, which is legal in Muslim Africa. Even though she should be afforded the rights of a head wife, Ramatoulaye does not receive anything from her husband, who is supposedly in love with a new wife young enough to be his daughter. At Modous funeral, both women are given equal treatment even though he had been married to Ramatoulaye much longer, and in the eyes of her community, she should be receive the majority of compensation.
Unable to cope with her depressed feelings, Ramatoulaye composes a long letter to her dear friend Aissatou, who broke through Senegals glass ceiling, and is now an ambassador in America. Ramatoulaye pours out her frustration that in Senegal the social system is in place that a girl can either get married out of school or be destined to work in a low paying job as midwife or elementary teacher. At the time of publication, there were only four women out of one hundred in the Senegalese assembly, assuring that men make the laws that keep women subservient. It is little wonder to Ramatoulaye that her co-wife would marry her husband while still a school girl. This realization does little to mask her feelings, that of a wife abandoned by the husband of her children, who is now struggling to make ends meet.
Suitors come to Ramatoulaye following her mourning period. They assume that she would rather be married to someone she does not love than single. Yet, Ba through Ramatoulaye writes that women should strive to be more than wives and mothers and hope to achieve jobs as doctor, teacher, ambassador, or any profession that a man also does. Ba wrote this in the post colonial period when Senegalese women were first thinking about equality. Her writing was a means to generate more thinking of this issue in hopes that African women strive to be on equal footing as men.
Mariama Ba created a strong female character in Ramatoulaye. She ushered in an era of African women writers who voiced their concerns about treatment of women in society. Unfortunately, Ba passed away shortly after the publication of her second book, but she left a legacy with So Long a Letter, the first African book to win the Noma Award. A first of its genre, So Long a Letter merits inclusion as a great book by women, and rates 4.5 bright stars.
so long a letter
So Long a Letter Themes
The Senegal depicted in So Long a Letter is a country on the threshold, passing between two historical eras. Ramatoulaye is born and educated under the French colonial regime, and she lives through Senegalese independence. Hers is the generation responsible for the slow process of Senegalese self-determination. They have taken on the enormous task imagining a new sociopolitical order, and with it a postcolonial future for their country. The opposing pulls of custom and progress that Ramatoulaye encounters in the Senegalese political climate become personal and particular in her struggle to reconcile her abiding faith in Islam with her feminism.
humanity is its own worst enemy
So Long a Letter
One of the major themes in the novel is marriage. Because the novel is set in an Islamic country, marriage is seen as being something every woman must do in her life. The main character of the novel gets married as well but the union is not a happy one as she is later replaced by a much younger wife.
The occasion for writing is Ramatoulaye's recent widowhood. As she gives her friend the details of her husband's death, she recounts the major events in their lives. The novel is often used in literature classes focusing on women's roles in post-colonial Africa. It won the first Noma Prize for Publishing in Africa in So Long a Letter is written as one long letter from the main character Ramatoulaye Fall to her best friend Aissatou following the sudden death of Ramatoulaye's husband Modou from a heart attack.