So Long a Letter by Mariama Bâ, Modupe-Bode-Thomas (Translator)

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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 I had to respect.”

Bâ invites the reader entry into the depths of Ramatoulaye’s life where all parties and sides are displayed. The complexities, contradictions of Ramatoulaye’s situation adds dimension further explaining the blurred lines of religion, culture and of women.

“Our lives developed in parallel. We experienced the tiffs and reconciliations of married life. In our different ways, we suffered the social constraints and heavy burden of custom. I loved Modou. I compromised with his people. I tolerated his
sisters, who too often would desert their own homes to encumber my own. They allowed themselves to be fed and petted. They would look on, without reacting, as their children romped around on my chairs. I tolerated their spitting, the phlegm expertly secreted under my carpets.”

Ramatoulaye does not point fingers, does not ask for pity, rather she cites all she has learned from her challenge. Her life altered in unimaginable ways she manages to focus on hope rather than lose herself in despair. This beautiful creature forges on in the light of a promising future. A bittersweet story, a remarkable woman. An intimate glance into religion, culture, family and the oppressive plight of women, the ramifications of polygamy. West African customs explored.

A story of friendship, love and hope.

“The word ‘happiness’ does indeed have meaning, doesn’t it? I shall go out in search of it. Too bad for me if once again I have to write you so long a letter….”


Paperback, 90 pages
Published June 28th 1989 by Heinemann Educational Books (first published 1979)
ISBN13: 9780435905552

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