So Long a Letter was the debut novel by Senegalese author and feminist Mariama Bâ. Originally published in 1979 in French under the title Une si longue letter.
In 1981, Une si longue lettre, translated into English as So Long a Letter by Modupé Bodé-Thomas was awarded the first Noma Award for Publishing in Africa
So Long a Letter
The story unfolds in the form a letter, a rather long letter, from a recently widowed Ramatoulaye to her best friend Aissatou, recounting her experiences. The book is set in early post-colonial Senegal and explores marriage, polygamy, religion and is hailed as a feminist book.
If you know anything about me, you should know that rather like letters and miss the lost art of hand written and posted sentiments. When I saw the title I was expecting to be in for a treat, as I happen to love especially long letters. So Long A Letter, although beautifully written is a rather moving tale, on marital experience from the perspective of a woman who becomes a second wife, then widowed and her attempt at reconciling her beliefs with her experiences and societal expectations.
-“Waiting! But waiting for what? I was not divorced … I was abandoned: a fluttering leaf that no hand dares to pick up, as my grandmother would have said.”-
It’s a 90 page book which one could binge read in one seating but it took me a fair bit of time as I had to stop after every few pages so as not to be swept away in the whirl of emotion swarming behind the subtext of the book. I can easily see how literature students would have this book as a set book trying to analyse the multi-faceted themes that punctuate the book.
‘The fragile baby is let loose too quickly into a hygienically unsound social environment.’
So Long A Letter was the April read for my book club Harare Book Club and here is a word cloud from the book discusions :
Did I say this book is beautifully written and so expressive it reads like lines of poetry stitched together, I don’t know if that credit goes to the translator or the translator I would need someone who has read the original French publication to give me their expert opinion.
I am stripping myself of your love, your name. Clothed in my dignity, the only worthy garment, I go my way
If you are a seeking a multifaceted view into marriage, polygamy and religion this text in its 90 pages packs thematic content which surprisingly 40 years after its publication still holds true to date… truth is timeless and ugly.
Princes master their feelings to fulfil their duties. ‘Others’ bend their heads and, in silence, accept a destiny that oppresses them
Its not a happy sort of read, it is triggering, in a world where people are caught up with Relationship Olympics and looking good for the internet, slay queens and blessers funding luxury for favours, So Long A Letter is peek behind the veil, the price of youth, imagine your spouse popping out and saying don’t expect me for lunch, then going and marrying someone same age as your daughter, infact, your duaghter’s best friend….
‘None of that is worth the capital of youth.’
Binetou, like many others, was a lamb slaughtered on the altar of affluence.
“Truth is ugly when one analyses it”
While the book does a stellar job of showing us the perspective the main character and by extension her best friend, the male characters come off as rather weak and slaves to their instincts and society; the women victims, although both Ramatoulaye and Aissatou do try to forge their own paths.
‘Driven to the limits of my resistance, I satisfy myself with what is within reach. It’s a terrible thing to say. Truth is ugly when one analyses it.’
Thus, to justify himself, he reduced young Nabou to a ‘plate of food’. Thus, for the sake of ‘variety’, men are unfaithful
So Long a Letter is a very interesting insight into life in a former French colony and I kept drawing parallels at how similarly living in former British Colony we accord English practices a certain prestige and also nuances from traditional practices and religion with Senegal having a predominantly Muslim population.
I put it down as a must read. Have you had the pleasure of reading this book?