Book Review – So Long a Letter by Mariama Bâ

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Goodreads Synopsis:

It is not only the fact that this is the most deeply felt presentation of the female condition in African fiction that gives distinction to this novel, but also its undoubted literary qualities, which seem to place it among the best novels that have come out of our continent. – West Africa

This novel is a perceptive testimony to the plight of articulate women who live in social milieux dominated by attitudes and values that deny them their proper place. It is a sequence of reminiscences, some wistful, some bitter, recounted by a recently widowed Senegalese school teacher. The letter, addressed to an old friend, is a record of her emotional struggle for survival after her husband’s abrupt decision to take a second wife. Although his action is sanctioned by Islam, it is a calculated betrayal of his wife’s trust and a brutal rejection of their life together.

Review:

So this is another book I picked up for my “Read Around the World” challenge, this time from Senegal! It’s a very short novel and so was a very quick read but it was very powerful and incredibly interesting and I feel I learnt a lot about Senegal through reading it.

The book takes the form of letters, and I really enjoy epistolary novels when they’re written well, which this book certainly is. Ramatoulaye’s husband, Modou, has just died and so she has entered the mourning period and discussing this with her friend in a lot of detail and including information about how she dealt with being a co-wife and being abandoned by her husband for a younger woman.

The characters in this novel are all excellent and very well-written. I really loved Ramatoulaye and found myself hooked to find out more of what was happening in her life. The book mentions several other strong female characters and given the time that this book was written, it’s excellent to see how well they are represented and you can really see how strongly the author feels about the role of women in Senegal.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this novella and would definitely recommend it as I feel it’s so short and so fascinating that anybody that wants to broaden their reading should give it a go because it doesn’t take long at all to finish it and it was such a rewarding experience.

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