Mariama Ba’s So Long a Letter, tells the story of Ramatoulaye, a middle-aged woman whose recently deceased husband had married her daughter’s best friend. Written as a long letter, Ramatoulaye pours out her heart to her best friend, Aissatou who had reacted to her own husband’s marriage of a second wife by divorcing him and taking her children out of the country.
A novella, set in Senegal presents two approaches to polygamy – one complacent (Ramatoulaye) and the other combative (Aissatou). The letter is an account of Ramatoulaye’s woes starting with her husband, Modou’s neglect of her and their children, his marriage to their daughter’s best friend, his acquiring of a loan to send Binetou’s parents on pilgrimage and Binetou a new car; his mother’s tyranny; and upon his death, the extent of his treachery. In spite of the heroine’s complaints, she provides a panoramic view of the culture that’s sometimes comical such as the performance of the professional mourners at Modou’s wake.
So Long a Letter‘s lyrical language beautifully captures the essence of the culture; an essence I tried to spotlight in Owanbe! Yoruba Celebrations of Life. The book provides interesting insight on a topic that impacts many African households and therefore has broad applications.
I highly recommend this novella to teens, young adults and adults looking for a deep and satisfying read.