A Year of Feminist Classics

Because they're better together :)

Introduction to So Long a Letter

I read this month for the readathon in September 2010 and really enjoyed it. It is a really short novel (my edition has 90 pages) and was a rather quick read. My review is here. I am umm… actually without my copy at the moment because I lent it to a blogging friend in Texas. Luckily I have read it rather recently so should be able to keep up with the discussion!

Also, I wanted to add a quick note that I am sorry I’ve been slow in responding to the incredible discussion on the Wollstonecraft posts. I’ve been reading them and really enjoying all the participation and debating going on and will chime in and do a wrap-up of all of it soon.

An Introduction to the Text

Image from Wikipedia of the book cover.

This is a short novel, but it is a very worthwhile read. The book is full of thoughts and ideas to think on and to discuss. While not as old as A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (it was published in 1981), and not as well-known, it is still a fantastic read and highlights feminism in a non-Western setting which I think is so important for us in this project. The book was awarded the very first Noma Award for Publishing in Africa which recognizes outstanding works published on the continent.

The book is written, as you may have guessed by the title, as a long letter. The letter is from a grieving widow to her friend after the death of her husband. They have both suffered from polygamy and have reacted in different ways through their lives – the novel is both an exploration of culture and its distortions and a discussion about the harm polygamy can do to a family. Two differing reactions are shown and the reader gets to decide which is best – or if there is a ‘best’ answer.

The book was written in French and translated to English in 1989 and so is our first translated read as a group. Will anyone be reading along in the original French?

The book explores a lot of issues and I look forward to the discussion that will result from our reading it together! (Or at least you reading it now and my previous reading of it, given that I don’t have my copy at the moment.)

A Quick Biography of the Author

Mariama Bâ was born in 1929 in Dakar, Senegal. She was raised largely by her grandparents after her mother’s death, and was lucky to have a father who pushed for her to be educated. She faced discrimination and trained to be a school teacher and worked for a number of years. According to Wikipedia she was married for a time to a Senegalese member of parliament but divorced him at some point and was left to care for their nine children.

There isn’t a lot known about her, or at least not a lot that I can find. Her Wikipedia page gives a lot of information about her feminist background and how she advocated for the rights of women, but there isn’t a lot of information of a more personal nature. It says:

Bâ’s source of determination and commitment to the feminist cause stemmed from her background, her parent’s life and her schooling. Indeed, her contribution is of absolute importance in modern African studies since she was among the first to illustrate the disadvantaged position of women in African society. Bâ’s work focused on the grandmother, the mother, the sister, the daughter, the cousin and the friend, how they all deserve the title “mother of Africa”, and how important they are for the society.

I think this ringing endorsement more than qualifies her first novel as an important and classic text for our discussion this month!

Bâ died in 1981 after an unnamed illness. Sadly her second book, Scarlet Song, had not yet been published, but was published posthumously. She has one other work, La fonction politique des littératures Africaines écrites (The Political Function of African Written Literatures) which was also written in 1981. It sounds fantastic and I am sorry that I haven’t been able to find a translation of it. Perhaps I will have to brush up on my French!

I hope that many of you will join with us in reading and discussing this text. I look forward to hearing your opinions and thoughts on it. Again, if you have any contributions in terms of discussion points, questions, or anything else, please don’t hesitate to email us at feministclassics[at]gmail[dot]com.

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23 responses to “Introduction to So Long a Letter

  1. Kira January 18, 2011 at 10:45 pm

    I tried to search for this book but it seems that my library doesn’t own a copy. Is there anywhere I can find this online??

  2. Emily January 19, 2011 at 5:37 am

    Thanks for the intro, Amy. I’m reading in French & am almost done. Bâ and Wollstonecraft are such an interesting pairing; many of Wollstonecraft’s points have occurred to me while reading Bâ – in particular the larger political context of their two countries at the time of writing/setting, and the treatment of motherhood in both books. I bet it will be another fascinating discussion!

    • amymckie January 20, 2011 at 3:56 am

      I’m interested to hear what you thought of it in it’s original French! You are so right that the political climate was a huge influence on both of them – I hadn’t made that connection!

  3. Annie January 19, 2011 at 11:04 am

    Yes, Amy, I’ll read it in french…. but, I’m french !

  4. dragonflyy419 January 19, 2011 at 2:54 pm

    I just finished the book last night – I can’t wait to hear the discussions on this. It was a very moving book and it had a lot of issues brought up that I will be interested to see where the discussions go.

    • amymckie January 20, 2011 at 3:57 am

      I’m so glad you enjoyed it dragonflyy419 – anything in particular you think we should discuss??

      • dragonflyy419 January 20, 2011 at 2:50 pm

        I’d be interested in people’s reactions to how each woman handled the situation? Do you think age played a role in the decision making for each woman and does that change your opinion any on how they reacted?

        Also I’d like to discuss the funeral itself … I would love some more background on that (I was amazed and shocked at her descriptions … it was overwhelming for me … especially her descriptions of the money aspect … and all the people).

        Just some thoughts so far …

        I wrote a humble beginning of a blog post but it’s mostly just a review. I’d like to write more after we can get into some discussions.

  5. Iris January 20, 2011 at 9:15 am

    I picked my copy up from the university library yesterday, so I will be reading it sometime soon. I am so glad that the people who have read it already have enjoyed it.

  6. Madame Curie January 21, 2011 at 7:49 am

    I ordered a copy from Amazon, and will be reading it as soon as it arrives. I confess that I am still working my way through Wollstonecraft, sigh :-/ But I don’t intend that to keep me from picking up Ba in the meanwhile.

    • amymckie January 21, 2011 at 1:57 pm

      I am still working my way through Wollstonecraft too Madame Currie :S I feel like a bad host, heh. So don’t feel bad, we’ll keep working through it together!

  7. dangermom January 21, 2011 at 3:48 pm

    I ordered a copy through ILL, and with luck it will arrive early next week. I’m really looking forward to this one!

  8. thegirlwiththehair January 21, 2011 at 4:59 pm

    I’m still working my way through Wollstonecraft but figured I would skip ahead and read this first, as it seemed a bit easier to wrap my head around! It was really good and I am so glad I read it.

    There are so many interesting points brought up but mostly I like having a womens perspective on polygamous relationships, the way the society saw it and her and how if totally affected her life. I agree with dragonflyy419 that the funeral was particularly interesting. The whole society structure/activities intrigued me! I’m looking forward to the discussion and am trying to formulate a review and some thoughts now.

    • amymckie January 21, 2011 at 8:41 pm

      Yes, both of those things are really interesting thegirlwiththehair. I hope to post the first discussion post soon and will include both of those points to get more opinions! I’m so glad you enjoyed this book.

  9. Pingback: Thoughts On: So Long A Letter « BaffledBooks

  10. Pingback: A Year of Feminist Classics Month 1 Wrap-Up « Amy Reads

  11. Pingback: » Lisa: So Long A Letter by Mariama Ba BaffledBooks

  12. assiddiq26 February 9, 2015 at 6:52 pm

    Please, can someone feeds me with the similarities & differences between Ramatoulaye & Aissatou.

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