Sunday, June 26, 2011

Fiction: The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives by Lola Shoneyin

From GoodReads: 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. Meet Baba Segi . . . A plump, vain, and prosperous middle-aged man of robust appetites, Baba Segi is the patriarch of a large household that includes a quartet of wives and seven children. But his desire to possess more just might be his undoing. And his wives . . . Iya Segi—the bride of Baba Segi's youth, a powerful, vindictive woman who will stop at nothing to protect her favored position as ruler of her husband's home. Iya Tope—Baba Segi's second wife, a shy, timid woman whose decency and lust for life are overshadowed by fear. Iya Femi—the third wife, a scheming woman with crimson lips and expensive tastes who is determined to attain all that she desires, no matter what the cost. Bolanle—Babi Segi's fourth and youngest wife, an educated woman wise to life's misfortunes who inspires jealousy in her fellow wives . . . and who harbors a secret that will expose shocking truths about them all.

My review: That last sentence of the GoodReads synopsis makes the book sound more dramatic than it actually is, especially when the denouement can be at least partially foreseen for much of the novel...Anyway, The Secret Lives was a very enjoyable read. I was near-instantly sucked into the story, which included the viewpoint of not only Bolanle, the central character, but also the other three wives and, once or twice, Baba Segi himself. The strength of the book, however, lies with its depiction of contemporary Nigerian life. Baba Segi and his wives come from multiple backgrounds (rural farming villages, urban working class, educated - but still poor - families), and these reflect diverse religious, social, and cultural aspects of the country. The issues faced by the characters of the story - marriage, child raising, education, relationships, superstition, and more - make real to readers a few of the issues that Nigerians are confronting in the modern world, sometimes with a little humor. The cultural information contained in the novel makes up for a storyline that, while capturing even my generally anti-domestic drama interest, remains a bit distant from the reader. I found there was a certain spark and connection that was absent from the novel, but again, the strength of the story lies elsewhere, and this book is a great read for anyone who enjoys novels about either the trials of adult life and marriage (albeit with a polygamist view) or other cultures.

Maturity Factor: Sex, adult situations, rape, and some profanity.

My copy of The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives was received from the publisher, William Morrow, in return for an honest review. The book was first published in 2010, with the paperback edition coming out on July 5, 2011.

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