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So Long a Letter (African Writers) Paperback – June 28, 1989

ISBN-13: 978-0435905552 ISBN-10: 0435905554

Price: $3.99
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Paperback, June 28, 1989
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Product Details

  • Series: African Writers (Book 248)
  • Paperback: 96 pages
  • Publisher: Heinemann (June 28, 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0435905554
  • ISBN-13: 978-0435905552
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.2 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.9 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #58,330 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

“This is a beautiful new edition of a timeless classic of African literature. Ba brings the issue of polygamy into sharp, almost familiar focus for readers who might think it bizarre and safely foreign. I am pleased to see this treasure back in print.” Catherine E. Bolten, University of Notre Dame

“I used this novel in my African literature course and it was great. The students researched Senegal and the discussions were lively, enthusiastic, and compelled the quiet students to join in. It was a rewarding experience.” Immaculate Kizza, University of Tennessee
--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.


So Long a Letter is a landmark book - a sensation in its own country and an education for outsiders. Mariama Ba, a longtime women's activist, set out to write a book that exposed the double standard between men and women in Africa. The result, So Long a Letter, eventually won the first Noma Award for Publishing in Africa. The book itself takes the form of a long letter written by a widow, Ramatoulaye, to her friend, over the mandatory forty-day mourning period following the death of a husband. Both women had married for love and had happy, productive marriages; both were educated, had work they loved and were intellectually alive. During their lives, both of these women's husbands chose to take a second wife - and each woman then made a different choice. Ramatoulaye decided to stay married, although it meant rarely seeing her husband and knowing that he was squandering money on a young girl, a friend of her own daughter. Ramatoulaye's friend divorced her husband and eventually left the country, settling in the United States. In her letter, Ramatoulaye examines her life and that of other women of Senegal - their upbringing and training and the cultural restrictions placed upon them. It is a devastating attack, made all the more powerful because of the intelligence and maturity of the narrator and the ability of Mariama Ba to honor two very different choices within one framework. -- For great reviews of books for girls, check out Let's Hear It for the Girls: 375 Great Books for Readers 2-14. -- From 500 Great Books by Women; review by Erica Bauermeister

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Customer Reviews

Gorgeous prose- I loved it.
Gabrielle Greene
The book succeeds in exposing the double standard in the African culture against women and it is poignantly and beautiful portrayed in this novel.
So, this timeless classic story transforms into a parable about friendship and love and most important of all, hope.
Pamela J. Appea

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Pamela J. Appea on October 29, 1998
Format: Paperback
Mariama Ba's So Long a Letter, clearly demonstrates the power of the pen.
Middle aged Senegalese school teacher, Ramatoulaye, who is an educated Muslim woman, a mother, an abandoned wife, and now a widow adjusts to her changing roles with strength but sadness.
She writes a letter to her long time friend, Aissatou, whose husband also chose to take a second wife years before; Aissatou now lives abroad as a single woman. As Ramatoulaye says to her friend by way of introduction, "Our long association has taught me that confiding in other allays pain."
And so Ramatoulaye begins her story. In the pages that follow, little by little, Ramatoulaye takes us into her world, her culture, her past. Ba shows the reader how although a woman's experiences and opportunities might have changed somewhat in the 20th century, it becomes clear how the hopes and dreams and disappointments of Ramatoulaye's mother's mother, her mother, and Ramatoulaye, herself, all tie into each other.
We learn about Ramatoulaye's deep pain when after decades of matrimony and friendship with her husband Modou suddenly grind to a halt as Ramatoulaye's husband reveals an affair with one of their daughter's classmates to leave the house to start a new family.
Ba's skill as a writer and as an advocate for the woman's voice, lies not in preaching or didactical posturing, but instead by a subtle demonstration of what actually happened.
She invites the reader to see the different sides and roles people play in Ramatoulaye's life and does not make it a black/white issue.
However, this work will definitely appeal to women who are interested in learning about a feminist/womanist perspective on other cultures as well as women who are well versed in West African culture.
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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 22, 1999
Format: Paperback
I was introduced to this book by a friend who said that it changed the direction of her life. Indeed, I can see how anyone with an open mind would find a personal connection with Ramatoulaye's story. The comments about women's issues in the other reviews should not dissuade any man or woman from reading this book. Who has not suffered disappointment, betrayal, fear, and intense sadness? And who does not need to know that even through the worst that life throws at you, there is hope? Survival is not necessarily reserved for the fittest. Ramatoulaye stoicly accepts her husband's betrayal, but inside she suffers, and through that suffering and a subtle rendering of life's constant comedy she gains strength and independence. Again, any son, daughter, mother, father, wife, or husband will gain something valuable from So Long a Letter.
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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Michael J. Mazza HALL OF FAME on January 11, 2003
Format: Paperback
"So Long a Letter," by Mariama Ba, is a short novel (only 90 pages), but it is rich in ideas and emotions. According to a note about Ba at the beginning of the book, she was born in the African nation of Senegal and died in 1981. The book has been translated from French by Modupe Bode-Thomas.
This novel is written in the form of a long letter by Ramatoulaye, a Senegalese widow, to her friend Aissatou. Ramatoulaye discusses the lives, marriages and families of both women, and reflects on their friendship. As she writes, the story of her life is fleshed out.
Ba has created a fascinating look at postcolonial life in the former French West Africa. This portrait is decidedly from a woman's perspective and is focused on issues that particularly impact women's lives. Ba explores a multigenerational web that links women and men together.
Ba's subject matter includes motherhood, marriage, religion, education, and politics. Particularly fascinating are her explorations of the role of the "griot" (described in the book's endnotes as "part-poet, part-musician, part-sorcerer") and the practice of cowrie shell divination. A key element in the book is polygamy as practiced in the Muslim African world.
The book deals much with women's relationships--with husbands, with children, with adult female relatives, and with friends. The book is about surviving loss and disappointment; it's also about hope and personal growth...
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful By "jsspoet" on December 26, 2000
Format: Paperback
this book is used by a lot of classes at my school (SUNY Buffalo): world lit, world civilization, etc. It's very short and a terrific book for such purposes. beyond that sort of silly usefulness, this is one of the most beautiful books i've ever read (though another reviewer says the french is better, and that's probably true, but i neither know french nor own the french copy, so if you just want to read the book, it's not such a big deal that it's not in french). bâ's language (in translation) is exquisite, almost slow, and reading it (though it's a quick and easy read) is like being suspended in time, floating down a beautiful river. i mean, she uses words like "pawpaws" (how often do you get to read about pawpaws?) and even her character's name, "Ramatoulaye" is rhythmic. the book pulses slowly, sensually-- an opening phrase "the words create around me a new atmosphere in which i move, a stranger and tormented" is a perfect description of the way the reader encounters the molasses-like (as in, sweet but slow) text.
i am not saying that this book is slow-- indeed, it reads quickly and once one sees how beautiful the words are, it's impossible to put the book down until one finishes it a few hours later. but the _beauty_ of the book is a slow one, the slowness of a hot place, of round fruit, of social change, of reflection--
read it.
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