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So Long a Letter (African Writers) [Paperback]

Mariama Ba
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)

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4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars
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5.0 out of 5 stars Marriage, motherhood, and friendship Jan. 11 2003
"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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5.0 out of 5 stars one of the most beautiful books i've read Dec 26 2000
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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5.0 out of 5 stars A widow's poignant story Oct. 29 1998
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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4.0 out of 5 stars A moving story with a universal theme Aug. 22 1999
By A Customer
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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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing
In "So Long a Letter" one gets the deep feelings of an African woman, a middle aged Senegalese school teacher called Ramatoulaye. Read more
Published on Feb. 23 2005 by Edwin
5.0 out of 5 stars So long a letter is a classic from Africa
I am a Nigerian American residing in the bay area. In high school, (Obot Idim), I was opportuned to read the novel, "So Long a letter" and was quite reluctant to part... Read more
Published on May 18 2004 by Akanimo
4.0 out of 5 stars 86 gender it is a great read for anyone
A short and easy read that is incredibly insightful into the psyche of the protagonist. Displays well the troubles of women not only in her position but women in general. Read more
Published on April 14 2003 by Brandy Somers
4.0 out of 5 stars Insightful and interesting...
Senegalese writer Mariama Ba gives insight and commentary on the lives of two female friends in Senegal who take different paths in life when their husbands decide to take another... Read more
Published on Oct. 14 2001
3.0 out of 5 stars bad translation
I found it really difficult to get through this book. The translation was dull as I found the French version to be a bit better. Read more
Published on June 23 2000 by S. Shewmake
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful view on Islamic women and polygamous marriages
This was a wonderful, short, but beautiful book on the life of an Islamic woman who was a co-wife. It shows what many women have to deal with and the sexism that they may... Read more
Published on April 6 2000 by Elaine
5.0 out of 5 stars a must read book
"So Long a Letter" reviels the feeling of an African woman which usualy remains a tabu.I believe that all Africans ,men and women,should get the chance to read this book. Read more
Published on Jan. 4 2000 by Saba Gebrehiwot
5.0 out of 5 stars An exceptional book. It has remained imprinted on my mind
Mariama Ba was absolutely magnificent in this book. The manner of poetic prose she adopts is not only touching but also addictive. I first read this book in High School in Kenya. Read more
Published on June 12 1999
4.0 out of 5 stars interesting look into islamic woman's life and fight
fabulous book, not only beautifully written but also helps to see Islamic women in a new light...
Published on March 17 1999 by Keridwyn (kpixie@yahoo.com)
5.0 out of 5 stars A West African-Senegal Muslim Woman's Life's Story.
So Long A Letter, 90 pages is written journal-style. I was so enthralled with all of the characters'life stories that I wish that I could read the French, orginal version for its... Read more
Published on Jan. 22 1999
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