THE SECRET LIVES OF BABA SEGI’S WIVES by Lola Shoneyin

Book Quote:

“When Baba Segi awoke with a bellyache for the sixth day in a row, he knew it was time to do something drastic about his fourth wife’s childlessness. He was sure the pain wasn’t caused by hunger or trapped gas; it was from the buildup of months and months of of worry. A grunt escaped from the woman lying next to him. He glanced sideways and saw that his leg had stapled Iya Tope, his second wife, to the bed.He observed the jerky rise and fall of her bosom but he didn’t move to ease her discomfort. His thoughts returned to Bolanle and his stomach tightened again. Then and there, he decided to pay Teacher a visit. He would get there at sunrise so Teacher would know it was no ordinary stopover.”

Book Review:

Review by Friederike Knabe (DEC 20, 2013)

Ishola Alao, known as Baba Segi, has a problem that upsets his stomach and general well-being. After two years of trying, his fourth wife still does not show any signs of being pregnant. He already has a stable of kids with his other wives, but what is the use of another marriage if it doesn’t give him more offspring? Furthermore, his young wife, “the graduate,” has been creating unease and tension between his other wives. It is really beyond him to understand what the reason could be, given that he is sharing his favours equally among the women. Something has to be done about his “barren” wife and all else will sort itself out after that. Or does it?

Nigerian author Lola Shoneyin was a well-known poet and short story writer by the time her debut novel, The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives, was published in 2009. It immediately won several awards and was also long listed for the 2011 Orange Prize. As the title and my short introduction suggests, the novel takes an intimate look at a life in a polygamous family in modern Nigeria. Drawing on her own in-depth knowledge of the issues, Shoneyin writes with great confidence making this novel a very engaging and authentic read. She harmoniously combines humour and irony with empathy and sensitivity in her vivid depiction of the central characters and the circumstances they find themselves in. The reader is taken inside the complicated day-to-day of such living arrangements and, quite naturally, we also gain insights into the very difficult underlying societal issues of traditional gender relations and economic inequalities.

Bolanle, the young educated fourth wife is the central figure of this fast moving and highly absorbing tale: her introduction into the household sets off a series of events and revelations that have repercussions nobody could have anticipated. What is predictable is that her arrival does not go down well with the three established wives and mothers of Baba Segi’s children. Iya Segi, the “mother of the household” has had until now a very good handle on everything and managed the second wife, Iya Tope, and the third, Iya Femi pretty well (each named after her first-born child). Now with the intruder among them jealousy, insecurities, favouritism and disruption of their established group dynamics take over the daily life. One expresses what the three feel: “These educated types have thin skins; they are like pigeons. If we poke her with a stick, she will fly away and leave our home in peace”  On her side, Bolanle does not really understand the inner workings of the household and adds to the difficulties.

Rather than telling the story from one – external – perspective, Shoneyin gives each protagonist a distinct voice to tell her/his own backstory and in other chapters reveal their respective views on the unfolding dramatic events in the household. As readers we can appreciate their very different upbringing and circumstances that led them to marry into Baba Segi’s household. We can even develop some empathy with Baba Segi himself, a man whose life has not been easy and has bound him deeply to the traditions of his social environment. All in all a very satisfying read: lively, personal and also educational in giving the reader a glimpse into the challenges faced by societies developing from tradition to modern, from rural to urban life.

AMAZON READER RATING: from 60 readers
PUBLISHER: William Morrow; 1 edition (June 29, 2010)
REVIEWER: Friederike Knabe
AVAILABLE AS A KINDLE BOOK? YES! Start Reading Now!
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Wikipedia page on Lola Shoneyin
EXTRAS: Reading Guide
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Another Nigerian author:

Bibliography:


December 20, 2013 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , ,  · Posted in: Africa, Reading Guide, World Lit, y Award Winning Author

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