The BUZZ: So Long A Letter was groundbreaking when it was published in 1979, and it was the first African novel to win the prestigious Noma Award.
The GIST: This semi-autobiographical work takes the form of a personal letter between friends. Ramatoulaye, a recently widowed Senegalese woman, is writing to Aissatou, divorced and now living in America. Ramatoulaye recounts the death of her husband, recalls their life together, relives his betrayal of their marriage, and describes her state of mind as she builds her new life, independent and alone. Like all abandoned women, she must choose the provisions for her unexpected journey: anger and bitterness or love and faith.
The work is poignant and uplifting, and its themes are universal. Ramatoulaye is a world and a generation apart, yet her experience reaches far beyond colonial Senegal to today, to wives, mothers and working women everywhere.
The WRITING: The slender volume is translated from French and is a lovely, lilting work. The writing is beautiful – stark and honest, with a unique rhythm and tone. Ba seeds her long letter with her beliefs about destiny, polygamy, marriage, love, feminism, friendship, housekeeping, parenting, nationhood, and family.
BUY or BORROW?: Buy. This is a classic piece of literature and deserves a second, slow read. As much as Ba likely thought she was capturing a moment in history that would seem old-fashioned one day, her long letter is timeless and remarkably relevant.
One is a mother to understand the inexplicable. One is a mother to lighten the darkness. One is a mother to shield when lightning streaks the night, when thunder shakes the earth, when mud bogs one down. One is a mother in order to love without beginning or end.
P.S.: Many thanks to Emily Mepham, who is currently working for the Peace Corps in Senegal and recommended this important novel. Check out her blog, A Drop In the Ocean, here.