I believe a determined woman can achieve whatever she wants no matter the challenges. So did the women of this novel. That’s one of the reasons I chose to review this book in this blog. I believe that’s what we are doing “breaking the glass ceiling”. So Long a Letter is an autobiographical novel written by Mariama Ba(1929-1981)from Senegal. Ba was involved In different Senegalese women’s organisations in order to eradicate the inequalities between men and women which led her to write So Long a letter(1981). It was originally written in French and was translated into sixteen languages.
So Long a Letter portrays the life of Muslim African women during Colonial and Postcolonial era in Senegal. The novel is in the form of a letter, written by Ramatoulye, whose husband has died suddenly(heart attack). She wrote the novel while going through “iddah” a four month and ten days mourning period perform by Muslim woman whose husband is dead. Ramatoulye was unable to cope with her depressed feelings, compose a letter to her life long friend Aissatou. She recounts and comments on her story and her friend Aissatou their struggles to keep up with the society.
Ramatoulye reflects on how emotionally dealt with her husband Modou’s betrayal, who she sacrificed her 30yrs of life, marries a second wife who is also her daughter’s friend and abandoned her with her children without financial support. Although she is hurt with the decision still accepts it as she understands that in Islam, a husband is allowed to marry up to four wives. The demand of society and religion has put her into a situation where she decides to remain rooted to her traditions and roles at the cost of her heart. Until the death of her husband and she became a widowed. The changing role made her realise the life of women around her. Her friend Aissatou choses to walk out of her marriage, move on with her life when her husband marries a second wife, which later she became an ambassador and lives in America with her children. At first I was angry why she would still hold on to the marriage, after this betrayal and still thinks he will come, which he never did. But when she said she has no courage like her friend it saddens my heart. The two women dealt with their betrayal differently but still respect each other’s choices.
I’m proud of how Ramatoulye was able to gain strength and courage through the course of her journey, where at first she felt she had no strength. But was able to speak out when she could not hide it anymore.“This time I will speak, my voice has known thirty years of silence, thirty years of harassment. It burst out, violent, sometimes sarcastic, sometimes contemptuous”.
The novel ends during the post colonial era with Ramatoulye emerging from a timid woman to a strong and confident woman, who questions the status of women in her society and rejoices whenever she sees a woman coming out of the shadow. ” I am not indifferent to the irreversible currents of women’s liberation that are lashing the world. This commotion that is shaking up every aspect of our lives reveals and illustrates our abilities. My heart rejoices each time a woman emerges from the shadow”.
The novel portrays the lives of women in Africa and their changing role from Colonial to Post colonial and also their struggles for liberation. It also addressed the condition of women in Senegalese society with a focus on the effects that Polygamy has on them. So Long a Letter is still one of the controversial feminist novel in Africa.
One of the interesting things is women are still struggling for their voice to be heard in Africa, but still they are rising and challenging the societal constraints.