I don't know where to even start with this book. I highlighted passages on almost every page. So Long a Letter is an insightful look at one woman's pain and anguish when her husband takes another (much younger) wife. The book actually begins with Ramatoulaye's widowhood. Her husband has just died and she is writing a letter to a friend about her feelings on her marriage, her husband's taking of another wife (allowed in Islam), and her husband's death.
Ramatoulaye, a Senegalese teacher, has 12 children, and her husband has run off (without telling her) and married her oldest daughter's best friend. Sort of makes for a bad day. This is what her husband's friends tell her, and her thoughts about it:
"`You can't resist the imperious laws that demand food and clothing for man. These same laws compel the "male" in other respects. I say "male" to emphasie the bestiality of instincts... You understand....A wife must understand, once and for all, and must forgive; she must not worry herself about "betrayals of the flesh." The important thing is what there is in the heart; that's what unites two beings inside.' (He struck his chest, at the point where the heart lies.)
`Driven to the limits of my resistance, I satisfy myself with what is within reach. It's a terrible thing to say. Truth is ugly when one analyses it.'
Thus, to justify himself, he reduced young Nabou to a `plate of food.' Thus, for the sake of `variety,' men are unfaithful to their wives.
I was irritated. He was asking me to understand. But to understand what? The supremacy of instinct? The right to betray? The justification of the desire for variety? I couldn't be an ally to polygamic instincts. What, then was I to understand?"
Another strong passage:
"I had never known the sordid side of marriage. Don't get to know! Run from it! When one begins to forgive, there is an avalanche of faults that comes crashing down, and the only thing that remains is to forgive again, to keep on forgiving. Leave, escape from betrayal!"
Ramatoulaye doesn't `leave' her husband; they do not divorce, a fact which surprises her husband and, it is implied, irritates him. He never goes back to her, even though they are still married. As Ramatoulaye adjusts to her new life, she appreciates even more the value of friendship:
"Friendship has splendours that love knows not. It grows stronger when crossed, whereas obstacles kill love. Friendship resists time, which wearies and severs couples. It has heights unknown to love."
Ramatoulaye also must raise her children alone (even before her husband's death), with all the trials and tribulations that entails. But, she is obviously grateful for her children. On motherhood, Ramatoulaye states:
"And also, one is a mother in order to understand the inexplicable. One is a mother to lighten the darkness. One is a mother to shield when lightning streaks the night, when thunder shakes the earth, when mud bogs one down. One is a mother in order to love without beginning or end."
I highly recommend this book to all, but especially those interested in women's issues or in African fiction.