Wednesday 15 March 2017

Bâ, Mariama "So Long a Letter"

Bâ, Mariama "So Long a Letter" (French: Une si longue lettre) - 1979

A while ago, a friend sent me an article called "The non-western books that every student should read". I forwarded it to my book club and we decided to read at least one of the books from the list. We decided on this one.

This is indeed a very worthwhile book to read. We rarely hear about women who live in polygamy, even less about what happens to them when the husband dies. This is just one of those cases and the author has described the situation of the protagonist so well. Apparently, it is more or less her own story, no wonder she knows how to explain the situation to us all so well.

We are given two different solutions, both of which are not really a great one but that is all the women have if their husband takes a second wife. They can either leave their husband or stay behind and be the "old" wife. Neither solution is very tempting.

It is interesting how short this novella is and how much it tells us. I definitely recommend this book, it's impressive.

We discussed this in our international book club in February 2017 and in our international online book club in August 2019.

From the back cover:

"Written by award-winning African novelist Mariama Bâ and translated from the original French, So Long a Letter has been recognized as one of Africa’s 100 Best Books of the 20th Century. The brief narrative, written as an extended letter, is a sequence of reminiscences - some wistful, some bitter - recounted by recently widowed Senegalese schoolteacher Ramatoulaye Fall. Addressed to a lifelong friend, Aïssatou, it is a record of Ramatoulaye’s emotional struggle for survival after her husband betrayed their marriage by taking a second wife. This semi-autobiographical account is a perceptive testimony to the plight of educated and articulate Muslim women. Angered by the traditions that allow polygyny, they inhabit a social milieu dominated by attitudes and values that deny them status equal to men. Ramatoulaye hopes for a world where the best of old customs and new freedom can be combined. Considered a classic of contemporary African women’s literature, So Long a Letter is a must-read for anyone interested in African literature and the passage from colonialism to modernism in a Muslim country. Winner of the prestigious Noma Award for Publishing in Africa."


  1. When I read this charming little novel earlier this year for the Epistolary Reading Challenge 2017, I too loved it. I agree with you that this literary gem from Africa would deserve more attention although the author brought it out already in the late 1970s. I wrote a longer review of So Long a Letter on my blog, if you're interested in my views.

    LaGraziana @ Edith's Miscellany

    1. Thank you so much for visiting my blog and commenting. I checked out your post and am happy to see your opinion. I am glad to see more people read it.

      I am always happy when I hear from you. Have a great week,

  2. I was reading your review and thinking, I have heard of this book before. Then I see Edith's comment and realize that is where I first did hear of it.
    Marianne, I am also in a few reading groups and I like reading about the experience of yours. Every month I post a list of what my groups are reading. Here is an example from this month:

    1. Thank you, Judy. Yes, Edith sent me the link for which I am very grateful. I don't get to have a look at all the blogs I follow or that follow me every day, sometimes something slips through.

      Your list also sounds very interesting, don't know whether I'd want to be in that many groups, doesn't leave much choice for my own books but I love to see what you are reading there. Will have to pay more attention in future.

      Always happy to "talk" to you. Have a great week,