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‘The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives’ by Lola Shoneyin

‘The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives’ by Lola Shoneyin

Aisha Obiagwu

Set in the ancient southwestern town of Ibadan, The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives follows the lives of a polygamist, his four wives, and their seven children. Their patriarch, Ishola Alao, also known as Baba Segi, is a brash, uneducated, yet wealthy Yoruba man who revels in his large family and stupendous wealth. His wives, Iya Segi, Iya Tope, and Iya Femi, are also uneducated, but the three of them take pride in being members of this affluent household. Iya Segi is the first wife and the mother of Segi and Akin, Baba Segi’s oldest children. The second wife is Iya Tope, mother to Tope, Folake, and Motun. She is described in the book as docile, and her girls are just as she is. Iya Femi is the third wife and mother to Femi and Kole. Although the three wives appear to be coexisting in some level of harmony, these three harbour a mutual secret that could destroy all that they have built. The fear of that becomes more real when Baba Segi decides to marry again. This time, he brings home a younger, more educated wife. Her name is Bolanle. 

Although the three wives appear to be coexisting in some level of harmony, these three harbour a mutual secret that could destroy all that they have built.

Bolanle stands out like a sore thumb in her new household. She is educated and polished, and comes from a well to do upper middle-class background. At first glance, it appears  unseemly for  a woman like her to be with a man like Baba Segi, and her family quite strongly disapprove of their union as well.  As the story unfolds, however, we discover her reasons. She too harbours her own secret, and she views her decision to join this family as a way of moving  forward. Despite her willingness to cohabit peacefully with the rest of the family, her efforts are met with scorn by the other wives, their children, and even Baba Segi himself. In defiance of this, she is resolute in her decision to stay in this family and make things work.

The story in this book explores many themes that are all too familiar to readers in many parts of Nigeria.

The story in this book explores many themes that are all too familiar to readers in many parts of Nigeria. Rivalry in polygamous homes, patriarchy, paternity fraud, infidelity, barrenness and how it’s perceived in the Nigerian society, and so on, are all part of the narrative. In this story Shoneyin expertly weaves the lives of each of these characters, developing and unravelling them with each new chapter, and each revelation leaves the reader both shocked and excited. Secrets are revealed, lives are made more complex, and in its final moments, there are no cliffhangers. Just undeniable truth and clarity. 

The story is paced beautifully, with the author bringing the reader into the lives of the main characters, chapter by chapter.

The story is paced beautifully, with the author bringing the reader into the lives of the main characters, chapter by chapter. The overall  tone of the narrative is straightforward, and the plot denouement is fast-paced, thereby making this book a definite page turner. Shoneyin’s prose is poetic and musical, the words on the page sing, yet there are no convoluted sentences and every word has its place. Each of her characters possess their own strong, unique voice, and even with the use of flashbacks from time to time, it is quite easy to trace and distinguish between everyone’s voice and story. 

Shoneyin’s prose is poetic and musical, the words on the page sing, yet there are no convoluted sentences and every word has its place.

The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives is many things: it is hilarious, suspenseful, shocking and an altogether wonderful read. Shoneyin’s writing  prowess is a thing of beauty, and this debut solidifies her place as an exceptional novelist.  

 


 

*Thank you to Serpent’s Tail for sending a free digital copy of this book for review. 

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