Title: The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives
Author: Lola Shoneyin
Published by: Cassava Republic Press
Year of Publication: 2010
For a polygamist like Baba Segi, his collection of wives and a gaggle of children are the symbol of prosperity, success and validation of his manhood. Everything runs reasonably smoothly in the patriarchal home, until wife number four intrudes on this family romance.
Bolanle, a graduate amongst the semi-literate wives, is hated from the start. Baba Segi’s glee at bagging a graduate doesn’t help matters. Worse, Bolanle’s arrival threatens to do more than simply ruffle feathers. She’s unwittingly set to expose a secret that her co-wives intend to protect, at all costs.
Lola Shoneyin’s light and ironic touch exposes not only the rotten innards of Baba Segi’s polygamous household in this cleverly plotted story; it also shows how women, no educated or semi-literate, in contemporary Nigeria can be as restricted, controlled and damaged by men – be they fathers, husbands, uncles, rapists – as they’ve never been.
Baba Segi is a typical Yoruba man, I am surprised he is not a Chief too (just to add to his color). He derives his joy from the power he has over his household, how much he dominates the thoughts of his wives and his children and how outsiders perceive his manliness. His 3 wives have found ways to make his household work too, and this system is working perfectly until the day Bolanle, a university graduate crosses Baba Segi’s Path.
For some reason, his wives take to her like I do when I see black olives in my food and are ready to do anything to get rid of her. At first I couldn’t understand the intensity of their hate; I mean there are 3 of you already why do you care about a fourth.
Lola Shoneyin does a wonderful job telling this story and the first time the ‘big secret’ is hinted at, the moment I realized what it was I literally screamed out loud. I won’t spoil it for people who have not read it yet, because there’s a satisfaction you get from unraveling a mystery before it is explicitly mentioned.
I really enjoyed all of the characters in this book. Bolanle with her naivety in thinking if she killed them with kindness, she could change the way her senior wives felt about her even though they were obviously ready to kill her. Baba Segi, who I couldn’t bring myself to hate even as he embodied all the attributes that make me wish I could smack some Nigerian men over the head, he is a man that truly believes he deserves to have everything he wants and would never stop to think that he might be a problem to his family because he is the perfect man (this is sarcasm, in case you missed it. Lol!).
I also think Mama Segi is a noteworthy character, I like the fact that she knows what is hers and is willing to go the extra mile to stay in control of it (even if she’s an evil witch). I could go on, every single character is carefully crafted with their own unique stories to tell and as a Nigerian, I could identify real people that fit their attributes. The events in this book could easily happen around you and It feels like an African magic Yoruba film except with much better dialogue and less time on unnecessary drama.
This is the best Nigerian novel I have read so far, I had a plan to read it over the weekend but I finished it in less than 2 hours. It is a real page-turner; very funny, dramatic, and thought provoking, it touches on subjects that as a people we prefer to pretend do not exist.
I would recommend it to any one that enjoys a good story and any Africa Magic addict that might be here; this is a much better option for you. Read a book today!!!
“The choices we have to make in this world are hard and bitter. Sometimes we have no choices at all.”
“A real woman must always do the things she wants to do, and in her own time too. You must never allow yourself to be rushed into doing things you’re not ready for.”
“Men are so simple. They will believe anything.”
“Only a foolish woman leans heavily on a man’s promises”