So Long a Letter (by Mariama Bâ)

So Long A Letter (by Mariama Ba)

So Long A Letter

In So Long a Letter the late Mariama Bâ offers a sensitive portrayal of women’s struggle in her native Senegal on the dawn of independence. Neither a polemic nor an advice manual, Bâ explores the complex difficulties facing two Muslim women as they wrestle with their husbands’ second marriages. A subtle and thought-provoking novel, it not only exposes the human cost of polygamy but the very real hopes and betrayals of those standing on the threshold of change.

Upon the death of her husband and during her 40day customary period of mourning, Ramatoulaye begins a diary-letter to her close friend Aissatou. Reflecting on the past, she weaves together their life histories. They grew up in a French school as two of ‘the first pioneers of the promotion of African women’, choosing their husbands against the disapproval of their parents, they represented the huge social change sweeping acrossAfrica. At first their marriages express the hope of a new generation, only to see it soured by practices of the old.

First it’s Assiatou’s husband, Mawdo. Born of noble descent, his scheming mother who was against marriage to the plain daughter of a goldsmith orchestrates a second, noble marriage. Aissatou leaves, ‘clothed in my dignity, the only worthy garment, I go my way’ and survives and succeeds on her own. For Ramatoulaye, her own misfortunes follow shortly after when her husband, Modou, becomes the ‘sugar-daddy’ to her daughter’s best friend and they marry.

Bâ pauses on Ramatoulaye’s quandary: she can leave with the hope of a new beginning, but, she reflects, ‘can I bear alone the weight of this responsibility?’ She acquiesces to the second marriage but does not submit. While her husband increasingly ignores her she learns to become stronger and more independent, going to the cinema alone and learning to drive. This self-respect and independence puts her in good stead to deal with the suitors after the death of Modou. She publicly humiliates her father-in-law’s proposal to marry and, despite much encouragement, refuses her admirer, Daouda, for she cannot love him. With wisdom and power she settles for the love of her friends and children.

What makes So Long a Letter a classic is not only its brave and honest account of the challenge of polygamy for women but its subtly elucidated message calling for women’s self-reliance. Bâ reveals through Ramatoulaye the inner strength demanded of a woman but also, poignantly, the challenges and fears that she faces. The much broader message that any reader will take away is the sense of hope and disappointment, clarity and confusion, of those caught in the bewildering social change of twentieth-century Africa.


  1. Chris says

    ‘So Long A Letter’…hmmm,it kept giving me so long a thought on…Marriage,Religion,Education etcetera etcetera on the African soil over the last century.Not so long a time anyways!

  2. Rita says

    I read the book in 1985 and I have never forgotten it. In that time I was living in Cameroon (but bought the book in Belgium after someone recommended it to me) and I didn’t have a computer. Still, the book stayed with me. I read it in French and I recommend it to all my friends.

  3. says

    I first read this book in 2008. I have been thinking for so long now how painful it was for Ramatoulaye and friend Aissatou who, with all rejections from parents, married to the ones they love Modou and Mawdo respectively and were turned down by their husbands who were influenced by the African-muslim tradition, polygamy.

  4. austine says

    when i read this book so long a letter,it made me to know how ramatoulaye and aissatou went through pains and humiliations and how they later made it in life despite all they went through

  5. says

    a very fascinating story, but my opinion is that Aissatou shouldn’t have divorced her husband because the tradition allowed men to marry many women,

  6. al Kanawy says

    A well written analysis. The novel So Long a Letter is indeed a classic for being thematic, stylish, and literally rich.

  7. Nyamanche Magabe says

    I find the book handy in tackling and understanding the plight of women, especially in Africa, under tradition, patriarchy, religion and education

  8. galass Tbs toure says

    Being an opportunity for her to refuse her past from her adolescence to her adulthood, Mariama Ba, through this book, tries to show the patriarchal ideoligies that does exist in her society. Morever the narrator herself looks more overconformist in her mature day. By depecting the prospect of a polygamous household……

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