zaterdag 8 mei 2021

Mariama Bâ: So long a letter

My dear young friend Islica in Sierra Leone told me that he was reading an interesting novel for his final year in secundary school. The title of the book is 'So long a letter', written by the Senegalese writer Mariama Bâ in French, and later translated into English. I decided to borrow the book from the library and read it along with him. I found it difficult English - I assume the original was written in eloquent French - and I'm having some trouble lately to focus on finishing a book, so it took me some time to read it. Islica had long since finished the book. 

To keep track of who's who, I wrote down the names during the reading. The I-person in the book, who writes the letter - or letters, actually - is named Ramatoulaye. She writes to her good friend Aissatou, a goldsmith's daughter, who has divorced from her ex-husband Mawdo Bâ, a doctor and good friend of Ramatoulaye's husband Modou Fall. Ramataoulaye's son is Mowdo and her daughter Daba. Daba has a friend named Binetou, who becomes Modou's second wife. (I'm getting confused already.)

When Ramatoulaye's husband Modou dies - which is the starting point of the letter - first his brother Tamsir makes her a marriage proposal, by the end or in fact even before the end of the mourning period, and so does, but later, her good friend Daouda Dieng. When Tamsir proposes, she gets very angry and she does let him know in clear terms. Daouda, on the other hand, she likes very much, he is very thoughtful and charming, but she rejects his advances, she does not want to share the marriage again with another woman.

In the letter Ramatoulaye tells her friend Aissatou how she had to share her - now deceased - husband with an other woman. How her husband Modou pays a lot of attention to a friend of her daughter Daba. Daba tells her mother that she heard that Modou has a crush for a young woman, but she does not know that it is her own friend Binetou. Modou secretly marries Binetou and it is only on the day of the wedding, after the ceremony, that the imam tells Ramatoulaye that her husband has married a second wife, and only then daughter Daba finds out that her father's relationship is with her own girlfriend. Ramatoulaye's children think she should leave her husband, but eventually Ramatoulaye chooses to remain faithful. But her husband moves in with his second wife.

When Madou dies unexpectedly of a heart attack, there is a painful burial ceremony in which the two widows and their families compete for attention and where the mother of the second wife takes the lead. Ramatoulaye describes her pain, annoyances, experiences and life choices to her friend Aissatou. When she talks about the marriage proposal by Daouda, a member of parliament with whom she also discusses politics, her feminist views are discussed in detail.

The final lines of the book read: 

"I warn you already, I have not given up wanting to refashion my life. Despite everything - disappointments and humiliations - hope still lives on within me. It is from the dirty and nauseating humus that the green plant sprouts into life, and I can feel new buds springing up in me. The word 'happiness' does indeed have meaning, doesn't it? I shall go out in search of it. Too bad for me if once again I have to write you so long a letter...."

Read more in Wikipedia 
I found the book in the University Library Utrecht 

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