Posted by: zhiv | March 29, 2008

Scarlet Song, Mariama Ba

This book is engaging from the outset, and deceptively simple.  It takes us into the world of a young Sengalese student, Ousmane Gueye, the son of a devout Muslim.  Ousmane is more devoted to his mother, Yahe Khady, than to religion or tradition.  The first chapters use the framing device of Ousmane’s walk to the university to tell his backstory, how he helped his mother and developed a thirst for knowledge, which was only strengthened after he was snubbed by his flirtatious childhood friend Ouleymatou.  Ousmane becomes an academic success, determined to get out of his poor working class district on the outskirts of Dakar.  So we are introduced to Ousmane as a disciplined young intellectual, respectful to his family and background, but eager to use his education to make something out of himself.

When the narrative catches up to itself Ousmane, whose progress is based on his self-discipline and rejection of romance, makes the acquaintance of Mireille, a white teenager who comes to school in a limosine, the daughter of a French diplomat.  Over time, in a well-told story, they fall in love.  This romance seems to answer Ousmane’s ambition, as he is respectful and reticent, only succumbing to Mireille when he discovers she loves him.  After a brief idyll, Mireille’s father, a liberal politician, discovers the relationship, which is abhorrent to him and shows his hypocrisy.  He puts Mireille on the first plane back to Paris, and it seems at this point as if the novel is going to be the story of thwarted interracial lovers.  Mireille returns to Paris in time to take part in the student demonstrations of 1968, and Ousmane participates in student unrest back in Dakar, a brief section of the story that actually goes a long way to grounding the characters and showing us the nature of their consciousness and political commitment, especially Mireille; she seems authentic to her time through this section, identifiable as a late-60s French teenager.  Still separated, Ousmane and Mireille both become graduate students and teachers, and continue a clandestine correspondence while patiently waiting for Mireille to come of age–21?–at which point Ousmane travels to France and marries Mireille, about halfway through the book.  Ousmane presents the marriage to his parents as a fait accompli.  His father is philosophical, but Ousmane’s mother Yahe Khadi believes that Mireille has bewitched her son.

At this point, after the intriguing introduction of the determined young academic and the black-white romance and devoted long secret engagement, the story becomes more complex and Ousmane’s character is carefully examined as it makes a gradual major turn, going from that of an eager, earnest, and completely sympathetic young man to a complex, ambivalent, successful and self-interested adult.  Ousmane tries to live a middle class academic life with Mireille, but he insists on being respectful to his parents and his customs as well.  Mireille, completely rejecting family and friends, has sacrificed everything and is trying to fit in, but she brings a full set of bourgeois assumptions about how they should live.  And nothing she can do is good enough for Yahe Khady.  Ousmane is increasingly drawn to the prerogatives and privileges of a successful man in his original society, and he isolates and begins to reject Mireille.

And then Ouleymaton reenters the picture, the portrait of a determined, romantic, traditional African woman.  Suddenly the quick glimpse of her capricious childhood character at the beginning of the book takes on more meaning.  Her pursuit of Ousmane is carefully and richly described–in his situation and pre-existing ambivalence, he doesn’t stand a chance.  We don’t really blame Ouleymaton, who knows what she wants and how to get it, but we never lose our sympathy for poor Mireille.  Ouleymaton seems justified in part because the Muslim society is polygamous, but we’re alerted to the dangers of this in the very first chapter, where Ousmane’s strength and seriousness is said to be partly the result of the monogamous marriage of his parents.  The story plays with time and the details of the two ongoing relationships, such as both women having children, as it relates the larger thrust of Ousmane’s second marriage and family, and Yahe Khady’s pride at the traditional ceremonies of a successful son.  Towards the end of this deep, but rapidly told (166 pp.) tale, writer Ba picks up a tiny note of how one of Ousmane’s siters had befriended Mireille, who has become isoolated and despondent.  Although Mireille is suspicious and she knows that Ousmane must have a lover because he is never at home, Ousmane’s second life is completely unknown in its depth and details to Mireille.  She has no idea that he has effectively returned to his home society, but as the end approaches all is revealed to her.  She goes mad, and kills her son with sleeping pills, and stabs Ousmane–the scarlet song of the title–when he returns home.  At the end Ousmane is said to recover, while Mireille has lost her mind.

This story was rich and compelling, with great characters who slowly became emblematic of much larger social and political issues, but they were always very real and accessible.  Ba builds so much sympathy for Ousmane, and presents his romance with Mireille in a powerful, unadorned way, with no violins and just dedication, respect, and mutual understanding, so that we really don’t see the second half of the book coming.  And Ousmane’s fatal choices are emblematic, they are presented as just those of one individual–the writer makes it clear that there are happy people and couples living on both sides of the edge walked by Ousmane.  The point of the novel seems to be that it interracial relationships in this particular society are easier if the man adapts western ways and values, but something is lost–and what is lost is portrayed in the strong, sexy, intoxicating character of Ouleymaton.  A man like Ousmane can’t have it both ways, and the cost of his love of the west and a white woman will ultimately be paid in madness and blood. 

I found this book some time ago at the University bookstore on the course shelves, where I sometimes look for interesting things I haven’t read or even heard about.  Looking around at home it seemed like a promising book for the Africa Reading Challenge, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  The book itself says that author Mariama Ba was dying as she wrote it, after achieving a great success with her first book “So Long a Letter,” which must be worth reading.  Scarlet Song was published in French in 1981 and in the “Longman African Writers” series in 1994, where it has been reprinted 8 times.

Now I’m trying to get officially signed up for the African Reading Challenge, and I already see So Long a Letter a couple of places.  Gives me lots of catching up to do, but I would think that anyone who has enjoyed So Long a Letter might very much like Scarlet Song. 


Responses

  1. This sounds like an excellent book. I’ve got So Long a Letter coming up soon, also as part of the African reading challenge. I suspect I’ll be adding this book to me tbr pile too!

  2. I loved it, and it was only after I got back from vacation that I saw that you and others have So Long a Letter on your reading list. I’m really looking forward to reading it.

  3. I read So Long a Letter some time ago and remember Ba’s writing as powerful and thoughtful. I will definitely look for a copy of Scarlet Song and see what I think. Wonderful review.

  4. Keep up the good work. It is of real importance for me for i happen to be reading it for my college exams. The most iportant thing is that it not only helps me in exams, but also a great inspiration for i love literature.

  5. I have read the novel.it is interesting.you have made it more interesting by summarizing it.keep up the good job

  6. I like it.

  7. This summary just brings the qualities of the book to light,nice work!

  8. I am also great moved. I like Ba s SCarlet song. Am takin it for my pte.

  9. I like it very much.It have driven me to reading this book. Thank you.

  10. Insha ALLAH very much looking forward to reading both books, interesting!

  11. Scarlet Song is an interesting book and your summary has helped me so much in my studies here at Mzuzu Univesity:Malawi

  12. I’m studying Scarlet Song for my IB English course in Sri Lanka. This was really helpful.
    Thanks :) X

    • Wat a nice book! It realy touches wat people [African mostly] do in their societies as far as religion and culture is concerned

  13. I fell in love with this book long time ago. It used to be a literature text book in ma country when i was in high school.

  14. I really appreciate the work of MARIAMA BA and all the characters in. The book has taught many youth like me on how to choose various things in life. I’m studying the book for my P T E july 2011

    By: IMENDE SAMSON
    on June 09 ,06 ,2011
    At 2:32 pm

    http://zhiv.wordpress.com/2008/03/29/scarlet-song-mariama-ba/#comment-form-load-service:Facebook

  15. I really enjoyed this book; infact i feel like rereading it! the polytechnic-unima.

  16. i really enjoy dis book and i also like the writer she is one my best writer

  17. The book seem to reject the myth that interrelationships between whites and blacks can work given the two different cultural backgrounds. Parents also play a pivotal role in relationships. Over and above, l true enjoyed the novel

  18. This is an interesting book.t bringsout many likeable themes though t z mainly about religion.and i hope that since it is an Alevel setbook 4 this year ,here in Zimbabwe,we r going to pass with flying colours.

  19. Good review

  20. I TEACH LITERATURE AT KENYAN TEACHER TRAINING COLLEGE, THE SUMMARY HAS REALLY TOUCHED ME, AM A VICTIM OF ABUSIVE MARRIAGE, AND I REALLY IDENTIFY WITH MIRREILLE. ITS LOVE THAT DROVE ME INTO IT, BUT A KNIFE OF HATE, BETRAYAL AND NEAR DEATH DROVE ME OUT. FRIENDS LOOK TO ME AS A GREAT HERROEN. MARIAMA BA IS MY GREATES INSPIRATION

  21. I am at Mary Mount teachers college intake 14,really loved yo summary ,it is so helpful

  22. I read this book in Malawi 1994 during my Malawi School Leaving Certificate and I never got over reading it. I have advised my friends and relatives to read it before they make a big decision to marry someone from a different country or culture.

  23. It makes u realise dat every woman needs care.Free,open and understanding should be employed between married couples.

    • It makes one realize how women can react if their pushed to their limits by oppressive husbands

  24. A good anlysis of the nove really maent to clarify mosty of the hidden agendas in the text.

  25. am duin t @ skool and ts knd o stressin n vry nyc tho

  26. What a well fabricated and easily understandable story! As one of the ‘A’ level setbook in Zimbabwe, it will be a stepping stone to a good pass in Lits in English.

  27. I feel so touched after reading such a well sorted out masterpiece REST IN PEACE MA’AM I’m an A level student studying lits at Berejena high hope to pass as it is understandable

  28. Victoria
    Read the Book as my Literature Novel in College.A Caution to the in loves not to allow the in-laws affect their relationship.

  29. I went to school in Marima Ba high School but never realised the great things Ms Ba achieved and how she has set us (senegalese women) free.

    May Allah welcome you in his highest Paradise!

  30. Hie Nyaradzo!
    I happen to teach ‘A’ Level Literature in Masvingo and agree that Scarlet Song is not just a novel but an emotional outlet considering the author’s real experiences in married life. Did u get to really grasp the title’s meaning? U can also b in touch with me on facebk – find Muneyi Ndamba. My e-mail is mmuneyi@gmail.com.

  31. It is the only book which tought me how 2 speek proper English , n I like it willing 2 get ma own copy bt cnt find it.

  32. I realy enjoyed reading this book but the ending did not satisfy me cauz i left in suspence

    • me too dear

  33. One of the most inspirational books. Mariama left a great rememberance.RIP

  34. i found it very helpfull,i hve an idea of wat iz scarlet song since i hven’t startd readin it

  35. im touched xa

  36. I really love Mariama Ba’s books,this was one of the best African writers.May the Almighty Father rest her soul in peace

  37. I LOVE IT……

  38. Im doing my upper six in zvishavane zimbabwe .doing literature , geography and history.this book really touched me somehow of how women are treated by men its a pity.l jus love the novel because its a realist novel.

  39. this book is very educating as it teaches us real life experiences as shown by Yaye Khady’s character.Djibril Gueye can be an example to some of the man out there…

  40. this is a very good book for all the teenagers out there and it shows how people lived long back,though some marriages like these are still forbidden nowadays…………………………….am in love with it

  41. Harlaney, ziko, sibanda, bhazi, sulu, riva nd kuda ar going to hve 5 points each at lits, we al luv dis bk! OrIel baby

  42. wat a wonderful book,u really did it from ua heart

  43. The book is nic its one of my favourite set book at Alevel in zimbabwe

  44. A very well writen & touching african novel.it provides us with the day to day reality of what really happens in this racially divided world.thank you ba

    • headboi dangwa

  45. This is a great summary l love it

  46. The book is so fantastic and seems to educate women most;the problems they came through and other challenges.Thanks.

  47. This book is so interesting,it has got a helpful message to everyone and it is one of my set book it will mek us pass.thank you..

  48. i.love..Scarlet..Song,ths..summary..iz..helpfull..indeed.

  49. jss luv it!thnk i’m gng 2 pss ma A-Level examz here in Zimbabwe coz i’m dng the txt in maLits sbjct at S.W.M.C.A HWANGE.may ma ba’s soul rst in pc.

  50. Great summary of the book.It has assisted me alot in my pte. Good job

  51. Allow me to agree that the bk is not only a Zimsec lits set bt a remarkable piece of writing that appeals to one’s inner most senses and it has come from one of our own African woman with a determination to unveil the plight of women not only in the African social setting but the world at large.RIP Mariama

  52. Allow me to agree that the bk is not only a Zimsec lits set bt a remarkable piece of writing that appeals to one’s inner most senses and it has come from one of our own African woman with a determination to unveil the plightof women not only in the African social setting but the world at large.RIP Mariama

  53. Scarlet song is on of the great books l have done for my A level studies.l love the wa Mariama tells us the advantages and disadvantages of interacial relationships.in this case it did not work out.

  54. The book is absolutely amazing, no doubt. and my lit teacher makes it more wonderful, Godwilling, and with confidence, prudence and hard work, I will get an A in this subject, thanx to the book. though I hope more flesh and analysis will be added to this site….for our benefit as Zim students…

  55. What a sacrifice! Mireille falls inlove and marry Ousmane despite parental resistance! Nice one thats my A’level set book

  56. i’m studying the book for my alevel..but i think its wonderful anfd inspiring…

  57. I DEFINETLY AGREE W TAWANDA SHE WAS REMARKABLE AUTHOUR WE DIDNT LOSE AN ORDINARY FEMINIST MAY HER SOUL RIP AND GUD LUCK 2 E ZIMSEC CANDIDATE WRITTING HER WORKS

  58. Thnks ba.

  59. Never had i read before a wonderful piece hope we wil pass GLEN VIEW 1 HIGG Studients

  60. The book is very interesting,as it talks about the challenges btwen youth,cultur and religion.and hw love has no barrier

  61. what an Amazing book! I stil hv a suspense though especially abt e end??? Bt nyc plot; definately my no1 so far

  62. good

  63. I love literature so much,especially the African one. Mariama Ba is jus a star,nt jus bcoz of her being a feminist but her work is so inspirational.i have read so long a letter and was mch intrugued.as iam writing this comment im holding the novel scarlet song that iam looking forward to enjoying the same way i did so long a letter.

  64. i luv it,im also doing it in literature

  65. The book is so much touching i like it ,im taking it for my PTE.

    • i’m also taking it fo my pte this yr august.best of luck.

    • i’m also taking the book for my pte exams 2013 august.

  66. Oh good dats awesome aha do mission to kala for me ok!

  67. has real made my learning easier & anywhere with my tecno!

  68. I found dis summary useful since the book is my ‘A’level setbook the summary has made me understand the text

  69. Wow a nice touching story and I bet Mirielle was justified to stab her husband.Thanks to Mariama Ba for enlightening us as women.and also rest in peace!And as a student studying Scarlet Song for my a level exam this year i bet me my colleages at chaplin will pass very well.

    • wow a hard hitting book on the unfairness of life, especially on the issue of patriarchy.

  70. Quite interesting but can you summarise it chapter by chapter giving us an insight into the themes

  71. I have enjoyed reading this….thumbs up

  72. Interestin story….can you then tel us abt betrayal in this novel…also to add is who betrays who because by the look of things betrayal seems to be the dominating theme

  73. The book is more fascinating.

  74. thats a touchng novel..though ousmane..rejected a white gal kupusa

  75. Your information is good but needs some of a bit panel beating

  76. am studing the scarlet song nw,it z aware, touching & inspiration 4women 2 overcome the oppression & discrimination in marriages.

  77. I am teacher trainee at Kericho West ttc and i’ve found your summary informing,it teaches from known to unknown.congratz!

  78. It’s a good book.I came a cross it when I joined college .it’s inspiring.

  79. that ws a gud sammary,wish u cld send me the characterizations of all the characters in the novel:-)

  80. Hi thanx fo e summary. l’m a student @ guinea fowl high school & am doin my A level & scarlet song iz one of e books we are doing.May you pliz post me some information on the theme of religion via email.thanx in advance

  81. M teaching the book at A level, just began reading it nd am lovin it. Its quite intriguing

  82. Thnx vry mch dis haz helpd m since its ma A Level set book

  83. Its a touching piece of art.

  84. I’d loved yo summary. Im currently doing this book as my A Level Literature setbook.

  85. thnk u,ur article has really helped me for my exam

  86. I like the analysis, it is good. The book scarlet song which is as wel part of my A level litriture sylabus, its plot is vivid, very vital and i like it.

  87. this is a grt job fo summerizing d book in such a way , thnx fo this bcoz it is helping me a lot in my studies ,am doing ‘A’level in Zimbabwe so this book is one of the books we are studying now in literature studies so thanx again fo d summary and d book review . But again i owe it to the late Mariama Ba . R.I.P

  88. I like the story because it very interesting and educative

  89. A strong feminist book

  90. Scarlet Song is one of the best Afrcan Novels I have ever read; not once or twice, rather, it was still as sweet when I read it the sixth time, and then it still feels very nice.

  91. the book is societal mirror to the world at large especially on the aspect of marriage and tradition then choices

  92. defntly touchn truth n also edcatin.m doin it 4 my pte exams @ kipsigis ttc knya gd grounds of lit indeed. R.I.P MAMA.

  93. i ave read da introduction part of it,n it is real interesting.plz send me the major themes through my email,thnx in advance.

  94. i love it

  95. hey im writting my final exams on this book soon…wsh all my pals best wshes……………GOD BLESS US

    • wow.!Ameen.God bless.!!!

  96. i so much love this novel.its very nice teaching us women that all men are the same whether black or white shown by mireille’s father and ousmane

  97. i love it its such an educative novel about the plight of women in marriages…….thanks to mariama ba for such a wonderful piece of work.

  98. wondrful novel t z.studyin t 4 my A level,

    • i love this book so much,,it has actually enlightened me as far as marriage AND CHOICE AND also the expectations of the society(how they affect one`s life),,, this is one marvelous book,,,indeed,,one in a million,,,well done BA

  99. this is a gd bk with real facts about marriage and influence of the inlaws

  100. thank you for this doccument from nyahuni adventist students dion ,rumbie ellen,wendy,tino,tafi,blessing,andrwe,joseph

  101. its a great book that brings a student topen their minds and explore

  102. The novel is but awe-striking. This is a masterpiece. Ba Mariama your are real feminist. R.I.P.

  103. thz a fabulous art tat has alot 2 learn with most probably in the school of love which tend 2 demolish all sets of conducts making it blind! yes luv is blind

  104. I have liked the book and am ready to do it in my pte.

  105. The two are revealed as an amazing and effective team when working together at school but all that disappears at marriage and that beautifull image is marred. Simple, Ba puts at our disposal the evils of an inter-racial marriage without the basic knowledge of each respective culture which was to be the foundation of their marriage.

  106. Mariam Ba explicitly explores how far the issues of viz; racism , religion and education can have repurcussions on the very bonding love affaire which can lead to marriage, the fabric of a society. Juxtaposition has been economised effectly to reveal how classes jeopardise an interwoven society. It’s a wonderful novel that unveils the social ,economic and political domains that characterise the 21st century society.

  107. what would you say about the form of writing In Scarlet song

  108. Grt job guyz.kip up.nyc n a bref summary it is.(zimbabwe)

  109. Iam teaching A level literature at Masvingo Christian school ,Zimbabwe. Iam much concerned with the woman,s condition. I view Ba ,s work as feminist discourse that challenges hegemonic behaviour particularly in African societies where ‘ otherisation’ and subjugation of women are common practices. Women,s Collaborative behaviour is condemned as it reduces their freedom and emancipation.

  110. thanku i like it and enjoy reading for PTE july 2014 inshaallah

  111. love this site and gives a much clear understanding of the whole text ‘scarlet song’ by Mariama ba

  112. Thanks for sumarising the scarlet song.keep up the standard.

  113. the summation is great i,I lyk the book & Im studying it for my Az

  114. am acollege student doing literature but i’d like to comment that this writer of scarlet song did agreat work because the book has alot of inspiration to the youths and also to old people. congratulation

  115. gud book

  116. so good

  117. I love mariama ba’s work…she hints out everyting and without the brains u could swear the story has nothing to do with feminism

  118. loved it big time

  119. thank u for an gud summary and am asking the analysis of this noovel ´critical appreciation´

  120. requesting for a phamflet

  121. this was one of the literature book while pursing my studies as a teacher it is such an interesting book both emotional and inspiring. Missing the discussions we used to have in relation to the whole story


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