Writer Ba pens life of Senegalese woman
By biconews On 1 Feb, 2000 At 05:00 AM | Categorized As Archives | With 0 Comments

By Ilona Meyer

My freshmen year at Bryn Mawr, when I was still a scared little girl, freshly debarked from France, I used to scour second hand book shops for books in my native language, craving something that would bring me a little closer to home. Because of this, I read the most odd collection of French novels, the great classics, the worst detective novels and the trashiest romances. My other source of French literature, [sic] was our own little book store, but since the prices for books are outrageous compared to their prices at home, I would only pick through the little trolley of used books that were on sale outside. It is there that I bought today’s book, along with Racine’s Phedre and Sartre’s Huis Clos for a grand total of $5.25.

I, who had always snubbed Sartre as being the pompous writer of La Nausee, fell in love with his plays. I soon read anything of his I could get my hands on, thus forgetting all about So Long a Letter, until a month ago, when I was looking for a short book to read on the train. Mariama Ba’s book, with its skinny 131 pages, was the ideal candidate. Going far beyond its initial purpose as a short read, So Long a Letter became a beautiful moment, and as such entered my list of short foreign books to share with you.

Winner of the 1980 Noma Prize, Mariama Ba’s first novel So Long a Letter is the jewel with which the author, an active memnber of feminist movement in Senegal, exposes the inequality between the standards to which men and women are held to in her country. It is a beautiful reflection on the changing society and culture of Senegal.

This book is presented as a letter written by Ramatoulaye to her best friend Aissatou, who lives in America. Ramatoulaye starts this letter on the day of her husband’s death and continues writing it throughout the traditional 40-day mourning period.

This letter, which begins as a receptacle for grief, shortly becomes a reflection on both of these women’s lives and on the society in which Ramatoulaye is evolving: its problems, its strengths and its inevitable modernization.

So Long a Letter broaches problems such as polygamy, social ascension, castes and traditions. The women have been friends since their childhood days at the Koranic school, and have remained close throughout their lives. Both of them marry for love. Their husbands, who are brothers, both take up second wives for different reasons. In this long letter Ba shows how their reactions differ and how both of them cope with their husbands’ decisions and the changes that these marriages bring into their lives.

Through the eyes of Ramatoulaye, Ba draws a vivid picture of Senegalese women’s situation at the time of the book’s publication: the way in which they were raised and educated, the cultural pressures they had to live with and the restrictions placed upon them. This book and the two reactions it describes are a witty introduction to a different culture and its problems. It is a wonderful and enjoyable read as well as a learning experience.

Next week I sill he telling you all about a retired football player in the Austrian book The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick, by Peter Handke.

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