Title: So Long A Letter
Author: Mariama Ba
Length: 95 pages
Challenge: Feminist Classics Challenge (2/14)
This is a discussion post/review for the Feminist Classics Challenge. If you would like to read the summary there is one here from Amazon that might help. This is really long so if you are on the home page I have stuck the second half under a cut in case you are in no way interested. :)
Some thoughts and a brief summary: For me, this book was a really interesting look into a part of the world and a way of living I don’t often (um… ever?) think about. I tend to hear a lot of pro/anti polygamy arguments but I don’t think I’ve ever read a story involving such complicated relationships told in such a powerful way before. Ba takes us through the life of Ramatoulaye, a woman who thought herself happily married, until her husband took a second wife. This forced her to revaluate her entire way of thinking about her world, her family, her friends experience and of course, her husband.
The book (for those not in the discussion) is written as a series of letters from Ramatoulaye to her friend Aissatou who went through a similar time. Her husband took a second wife and she couldn’t accept this. She actively chose to leave her husband and make a new life for herself, becoming a translator and moving overseas. For Ramatouaye it wasn’t that simple. With twelve children (wow!), some still very young, some married, some testing their limits, she couldn’t leave. She had to find a way to live with her situation.
Through the letters, written after her husbands death, we learn how Ramatoulaye went through stages of anger, confusion and what could be seen almost as understanding. The book really was brilliantly written, with Ramatoulaye’s character remaining prominent (as it should have been!) with the others coming in and out of the story supporting as necessary. What was really interesting about So Long A Letter though is the questions it stirs up. I read through this book very quickly, it is the kind of tale where you connect with the character so firmly that you must know what happens. For a short book it certainly touched on a lot of incredibly important issues. Ba was skilled enough to highlight several feminist problems while allowing a story to unfold for the reader.
What I liked/more thoughts: The one thing I loved the absolute most was when Ramatouaye very firmly stood up for the need for more women representatives in the governmental Assembly to a man who wanted to marry her after her husbands death. This was a brilliant way of demonstrating her intelligence (she was a trained school teacher after all) while highlighting the need for more equal governmental representatives to ensure the acknowledgemnt of problems men just don’t think of. I went straight for the obvious and thought of women’s rights in polygamus relationships, what should be in place to ensure the financial security of the first wife if the husband takes a second? In Ramatouaye’s case, she and her husband put together savings to buy their property, what protected her? These are things that simply would have never occoured to me before. I loved that throught her experience Ramatouaye grew so much and became so actively aware of feminist issues.
Other highlights of the book for me include, the first solo voyage to the movie theatre, her growing comfort with handling the finaces and household maintaine when her husband failed to keep up with the and the typicial what do I do with my children? problems. These all were completely relatable situations, one anybody, anywhere, can understand and it was these and other similar events that really pulled it into focus for me how similar the problems we encounter are, even if the situation that create them are so different.
I loved learning about Ramatouyle’s culture, the funeral scene being a prime example, the money exchanged at every event, tallied by family. I know absolutely nothing about this sort of thing and am definitely interested to find out more!
I’m forcing myself to stop typing now but there may be another post soon with more of my random ramblings on So Long A Letter. It was an amazing, powerful story which managed to be simple and complicated simulatanously and remaining true to it’s background throughout. I am so glad I read this book and am on the hunt for more similar Feminist African literature now if anyone has any suggestions.
Note for the challenge – I am still struggling my way through Vindication. I probably won’t actually be able to finish it before the end of January but I refuse to give up and so you may see a random post on it later in the year.
For some more information and discussion on So Long A Letter check out this post over at the Feminist Classics Challenge.