I first read So Long A Letter in high school. I could remember the basic story line but couldn’t remember any details, so I wanted to re-read it and thought the Women Unbound Challenge would be a good space for it.
That year in high school we also read Madame Bovary, The Awakening, Jane Eyre, Anna Karenina, A Doll’s House, The House of the Spirits and Shizuko’s Daughter. If we read other books I don’t remember them. I’m not sure but I think our English teacher (a woman) quite enjoyed women writers. These are all books that I consider among my favorites (I’ve read Anna Karenina twice more since then) and most likely started my love affair with women writers, books about women, and pretty much anything with a feminist slant…At this time I still did not know the word feminist.
So Long A Letter is the story of Ramatoulaye, a Senegalese woman recently widowed after her husband suddenly abandons her and takes a new wife. Even though her husband’s decision is sanctioned by their Islamic faith Ramatoulaye feels hurt and betrayed. It appeared to her all along that her marriage was strong and full of love. This short novel is in the form of a letter to her friend Aissatou. Ramatoulaye recounts fond and bitter memories in a process that is just as much of a healing process as a sharing of recent news.
Ramatoulaye discusses women’s rights, women’s involvement in politics, societal pressures put upon women, the effects of age, and mothering young girls in a time different from her own. Even though Ramatoulaye is a proponent of these things she has continued to struggle with what seems to be the ‘right’ decision in light of her feminist stance and her duty to her family and her husband.
Because, being the first pioneers of the promotion of African women, there were very few of us. Men would call us scatter-brained. Others labelled us devils. But many wanted to possess us. How many dreams did we nourish hopelessly that could have been fulfilled as lasting happiness and that we abandoned to embrace others, those that have burst miserably like soap bubbles, leaving us empty-handed?
I am trying to pinpoint my weakness in the way I conducted myself. My social life may have been stormy and perhaps injured Modou’s trade union career. Can a man, deceived and flouted by his family, impose himself on others? Can a man whose wife does not do her job well honestly demand a fair reward for labour? Aggression and condescension in a woman arouse contempt and hatred for her husband. If she is gracious, even without appealing to any ideology, she can summon support for any action. In a word, a man’s success depends on feminine support.
And also, one is a mother in order 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 strikes the earth, when mud bogs one down. One is a mother in order to love without beginning or end.