The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives
Lena’s rating: 4 of 5 stars
Published: May 2009
“To the dismay of her ambitious mother, Bolanle marries into a polygamous family, where she is the fourth wife of a rich, rotund patriarch, Baba Segi. She is a graduate and therefore a great prize, but even graduates must produce children and her husband’s persistent bellyache is a sign that things are not as they should be. Bolanle is too educated for the ‘white garment conmen’ Baba Segi would usually go to for fertility advice, so he takes her to hospital to discover the cause of her barrenness. Weaving the voices of Baba Segi and his four competing wives into a portrait of a clamorous household of twelve, Lola Shoneyin evokes an extraordinary Nigerian family in splashes of vibrant colour.” – Serpent’s Tail
I could not help it, I flew through this book. Shoneyin writes in a captivating way, observing human behaviour without openly criticising it. Every chapter is told from a different character’s perspective, each contributing their part to the story, some characters adding more than others. Bolanle, the educated fourth wife, whom the story focuses on more than the others, leads the reader through the family that she has become a part of and we follow her as various secrets get unraveled.
The characters were very interesting. Each had their own story. Baba Segi was an almost comical figure in between all his more or less tragically assembled wives. This novel describes the difficulties women face in a society where a woman’s main job is it to bear children and cater to her husband’s wishes, as well as the role that education can play. So naturally, a large part of the book revolves around procreation, and how men and, let’s be honest, mainly women, handle it. If you want an insight into how it is to be a woman in a surrounding like this, then this is a very good book to read.
The writing is very clear and readable, lets you draw your own conclusions from it, rather than stating the obvious, and I enjoyed that a lot. The only criticism I have is that I could not distinguish the characters that well by their narration, they did not bear as distinctive a voice for me as I would have wished. Sometimes I was a few pages into the chapter and had to go back, because I realised I was reading it with the wrong character in mind. Partially, my difficulty in figuring out who was talking stemmed from the fact that I was so eager to read the story that I might have been sloppy in my reading. So I did not pay as much attention to the names as would have been advisable. I must be honest, I need some practice in paying attention to similar looking names (mixed my Iya Tope, Iya Femi, Iya Segi, Segi and Baba Segi a lot). A more distinctive voice might have helped my sloppy reading…
I can only recommend this book. It draws you in, goes deeper with each fate described. The characters will stay with me for a while, especially Bolanle.