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.