Friday, November 02, 2007

#71 - So Long A Letter

As I make my way through my Around the World in 52 Books challenge, I'm find that not only are the authors unfamiliar to me, but the history of their countries and their experiences are eye opening as well. Having never been to Senegal, which is a country in Western Africa where the majority of its people are Muslim, the charged words of Mariama Bâ's So Long A Letter truly brought me into a world I have never experienced.

Told in epistolary format, middle-aged schoolteacher Ramatoulaye writes writes to her oldest friend, Aissatou, after the death of her husband. She struggles through her feelings about the event, which are made more complex by the fact that her husband took a second wife just five years before his death. Heralded for her feminist point of view, the narrative examines the wide differences between men and women in her society. Not just regarding the idea of polygamy, but also in terms of education, jobs and money.

Ramatoulaye is a strong heroine, a mother to twelve children, she's educated and works as a schoolteacher. The range of emotions she feels, at first when she discovers her husband has married again (no one told her), then when she comes to accept his death, and finally when she moves on with her new, independent life, are the blood of this book. At times the story feels secondary to her more philosophical musing about the curves that life throws, and she's very keen to urge young women to make their own way in life. In a way, the book is almost a parable to younger Senegalese women who should take Ramatoulaye's lessons and live accordingly. Which isn't to say it's not a successful, albeit short, book. On the whole, it reminded me a little of I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, and I enjoyed reading it.

It had been many years since I'd picked up a copy of a title from Heinemann's African Writers Series, and I'm glad that my challenge has brought me back. I'm reminded of how I used to seek these books out in the years after I finished my undergrad degree, before life took over and bestseller lists flaunted their accessible yumminess. Regardless, I feel richer for having read Mariama Bâ's book.


Melwyk said...

Mariama Ba is one of those writers I've added to my list of books to read some day. You make this book sound very appealling, I'll have to try it first.

b*babbler said...

Sounds like a fascinating read. I really should expand my reading past the bestsellers and the books with the shiniest covers and meander off into some good international fiction. The world has so much (more) to offer.

Anonymous said...

Oh, my. I landed on your site because I was looking for song lyrics to an old hip-hop jam but it just so happens that I, too, am a girl with Wegener's and two titanium hips to boot. Quite the coincidence.

I'm glad to see that your latest entries focus on books (rather jealous of your having seen Ondaatje read) and not ANCA levels and prednisone woes!

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