Posted by: biblioglobal | December 8, 2014

Senegal: So Long a Letter (Book-from-every-country #62)

So Long A Letter by Mariama Ba.

So Long A Letter by Mariama Ba. Translated from the French by Modupe Bode-Thomas

So Long a Letter by Mariama Bâ is a short novel written in the form of one long letter. The letter is written from one woman to her friend. I’d argue that it is as much a feminist statement as it is a novel.

The plot line is basically a pretty familiar one- working women who still must take care of all the household duties while their husbands who fall for younger women. The difference being that in Senegal (as in many other Muslim cultures) rather than having an affair or getting a divorce, the husbands simply marry the younger woman and tell their first wives about it afterwards.

I found it interesting how little blame the letter-writer placed on her husband or especially her friend’s husband. She seemed quite forgiving of the younger wives as well. It was the mothers-in-law who were really to blame! They schemed up these second marriages and the men seemed almost powerless to resist them.

Particularly since the novel is apparently semi-autobiographical, I wonder whether the author was aware of this pattern of placing blame on the women rather than on the men. Is she unconsciously placing the blame on the women or is she deliberately commenting on the tendency to blame women? I can’t really tell.

Mostly I think that the author is saying that the real blame is not on individuals but on the societal structure of polygamous marriage.

I also found it interesting that the letter-writer complains about women having to do all of the childcare and housework even if they also are working full-time, but then seems to require only her daughters and not her sons to help with housework!




  1. I really enjoyed it. I am glad you read it.

    • Oh, your new blog is on WordPress! That’s a smart way to tackle the WordPress/Blogger divide.

      I’ve had So Long a Letter on my reading list for a long time. I’m glad I finally read it.

      • Hahaha, yes! wanted to try a different platform.

        “So Long A Letter” is actually one of my favourite novel. I found it really interesting in those days the women were always to blame. Now we know better. Marriage is not at all cost. It is beautiful to fall in love, it is also OK to fall out of love without having to be socially prejudiced.

        It seems you did not like it a lot. Correct?

      • I’ve tried to avoid saying whether I liked it or not! Mostly I just feel neutral about it. It was good and I can see why it has come to be considered a classic, but I didn’t find it particularly striking somehow.

  2. It is interesting to see people acknowledging systemic problems will simultaneously buying into them. Sad too.

    • I think that sometimes things are just so ingrained that it is easy to miss the contradiction.

      • Oh most definitely.

  3. I think I’d be too angry reading this book. I’m not sure if I’d like to read that, especially as it’s based on real history. I think I’d just shout out to the lady “Stop being a lame duck, for God’s sake!”. I so not agree with the book, from your description, and it’s rather repulsive for me. I think this book would be great to illustrate why feminism is needed.

    • I think I really gave the wrong impression in my post by focusing on a few of the inconsistencies which I found interesting. In fact, that narrator is quite the opposite of a lame duck! She very much takes charge of her life and makes what she can out of it. Actually, I’ve read that one of the reasons this book is considered a classic is that, while some earlier African books had focused on injustice to women, this was among the first to not just portray the women as victims.

      • Ah, ok. Sounds better. 🙂

        I’ll remember it, for the future. We don’t have it translated in Polish. 😦

  4. I’ve had then on my shelf for a year or two now. Thanks for reminding me why I wanted to read it!

    • You’re welcome! I’ll be interested to hear your thoughts.

  5. How very interesting and sad. Accepting and condoning a way of life is never easy.

  6. I only just found out about your blog and I LOVE it! I’ll be reading your back posts over the holidays 🙂 What a great project. Thanks for putting it out there.

    • Thanks! I’ve been enjoying reading your blog too!

  7. […] found the similarities between Changes and So Long a Letter, the book from Senegal I recently read, remarkable. Both feature a friendship between two educated […]

  8. […] So Long a Letter by Mariama Ba (Senegal)- A book in the form of a long letter about two friends who make different choices when […]

  9. I absolutely loved this when I read it junior year in college. I love Mariama Ba! The novel speaks volumes on polygamy, gender issues and feminism. Great review! 🙂

    • Thanks! What other books by Mariama Ba have you read? This one seems to be by far her most famous.

      • “So Long A Letter” is the only one I’ve read! I think she has another book called ‘Scarlet Song’

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