Yesterday you were divorced. Today I am a widow. (page 1)
So begins So Long a Letter by Mariama Ba (first published 1980, translated from the French by Modupé Bodé-Thomas), the personal (fictional) diary of the Senegalese woman Ramatoulaye, written as an extended letter to her best friend Aissatou, who has long lived in the United States.
Mariama Ba writes of the conflicts these women face in their modern (1970s and 1980s) world with detail, passion, understanding, and sensitivity. In an expert way, she doesn’t judge the choices her fictional characters make. Nevertheless, the outcomes, both negative and positive, are evident in the women’s realistic responses to their situations.
Obviously, I have never been a woman in Senegal forced to live in a polygamous situation. I have never had to face the difficult questions of parenting and motherhood that Ramatoulaye faces. I have never been betrayed by my husband or felt direly alone in the world. Yet, I related to Ramatoulaye’s pain, her quandary, and her desire for something better. In some ways, Ramatoulaye is every woman. I loved reading her story. I feel I know her, even after 90 pages.