Saturday, August 28, 2010

Review: The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives

Author: Lola Shoneyin
Format: hard cover 288 pgs
Characters: Baba Segi, Iya Segi, Iya Trope, Iya Femi, Bolanle
Subject: Life in a Polygamous society
Setting: Nigeria
Genre: Fiction
Source: Early Review Program from
Challenge: ARCs completed

An unusual look at life in modern day Nigeria, using the theme of polygamous marriage as the setting.  Baba Segi is a small time merchant who, because of the success of his marriages, thinks he is a big timer.  His first wife, and ex officio major domo of the household, has presented him with two daughters and a son.  He is unaware that she is also the source of his wealth (his mother and her mother having conspired to settle a large sum on the wife in return for the marriage).  Life goes along, he brings home wife #2, whose background has sufficiently cowed her so that she is grateful for a nice house, a shared husband, and the chance to braid hair for all the children.  When wife #3 comes along, there is a bit more turmoil, since she is one who likes to look pretty, does no housework, and just wants to enjoy the good life.  In spite of their differences, the three wives eventually settle into a routine each can live with, they enjoy their children and their status and Baba Segi is living the high life.

The apple cart is upset, however, when wife #4 joins the party.  She is young and HORROR OF HORRORS--she is University Educated.  She tries to teach the other wives and the children to read, she goes off on her own during the day to shop, she takes her turn at the household  (and marital) chores, but isn't allowed by 1-3 to really become assimilated into the group.  They despise her, and begin plotting to have her removed (hopefully by forcing her to leave on her own.). She simply refuses to be intimidated.  When wife #4 is unable to conceive, a wise medicine man suggests to Baba Segi that he take her to a hospital, since she would be much more likely to listen to the educated doctors, then to tribal medicine men.  The test results are surprising, and will ultimately threaten not only marriage #4, but 1,2 and 3 also.

The ensuing happenings are by turn tragic, comic, and surprising.  I'm not sure if the author was trying to give us an anthropological picture of life in modern day Nigeria, or use this to form the basis of an African sit-com. The characters seem almost to be stereotypes, and  I found it hard to follow the constant change of POV that occurred with each chapter.  I wish the author had given us  more indication at the beginning of each change so I could see who was actually speaking, but in the end, it did not substantially detract from my ability to follow the story.  It's not going to win any prizes, but the average reader will be able to finish and enjoy it.

1 comment:

  1. This is the first review I've seen on this one Tina. Probably will not read it, but glad I saw your review....thanks


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