So Long a Letter

So Long a Letter, English cover

I’m back! Thanks for your patience while I finished packing, unpacking, and taking care of the many little things involved in a cross-country move.

During those couple weeks without an office or much internet, I took great pleasure in diving back into my ever-growing stack of must-read paperback books. One of the first on my list was So Long a Letter, written by Mariama Bâ in 1979, as translated by Modupé Bodé-Thomas.

I received a copy of So Long a Letter (Une si longue lettre, in the original French) in a books-in-translation exchange hosted a few months ago by the National Capital Area Translators Association. A young literary translator brought it, having thoroughly enjoyed the text while in a college course. I can see why she liked it so much!

Bâ offers a unique view into the private world of a Senegalese woman whose life holds quite a few twists. With the “background” of her husband, a Senegalese nationalist, helping the country break from colonial rule, the protagonist, Ramatoulaye, must adjust as he also breaks from her—choosing a young girl as a second wife and ultimately abandoning his first. While Senegal learns how to live without colonial powers, Ramatoulaye learns how to live without a husband in a culture in which that is not the norm.

Though a short read, So Long a Letter is packed with cultural details unique to Senegal, as well as pure universal human emotion. Modupé Bodé-Thomas produced an elegant translation, balancing lengthier, poetic French-like sentences with shorter punctuations more in keeping with English-language style. It is an engrossing tale. I recommend it for anyone interested in African politics or culture, feminism, family dynamics, or children’s rights—there’s something in this for almost anyone. Happy reading!

What books have you read in translation recently? Have you read this African text yet? What did you think about it?


3 thoughts on “So Long a Letter

  1. Pingback: On reading for pleasure | translation, untangled

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