Book Review: The Secret Lives Of Baba Segi’s Wives By Lola Shoneyin

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The fiction debut for the Nigerian poet, ‘The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives’ can only be described as a page-turner.

Baba Segi is your archetypal African man; he has three wives and a litter of children already and the book begins with his marriage to his fourth wife – degree-holding, Bolanle. The moderately paced book takes us through the lives of each of these wives; how they ended up at Baba Segi’s house and the secrets they bear from their past lives.

Set in 21st century Nigeria, the book explores various themes including patriarchy, love and the fundamentals of marriage.

Even though Baba Segi is completely capable of providing for his wives, they desire his attention more. Each wife seeks to garner his attention and the arrival of the fourth wife promises to divide it even more. They are equally threatened by her arrival and work together to get her kicked out of the home or leave voluntarily – whichever comes first.

Iya Segi, Baba Segi’s first wife, is in charge of the household and nothing happens within that home without her nod. She presents herself as the alpha-female and Bolanle’s arrival threatens to disrupt this ‘natural order’.

Bolanle is educated and this doesn’t sit well with the wives, especially, Iya Femi who has no education and sees Bolanle’s move to home-school the children as a mission to render her inadequate as a parent.

The wives are intimidated by Bolanle, but that’s not all. They have a secret they’ve been hiding and Bolanle’s arrival threatens to expose it. Thus continues their efforts to frustrate her in order to preserve their home.

The book excels in its description of a polygamous African home, giving each of the characters’ roles in the home importance. There is a story to be told, and Lola gratifies this by allowing the characters their own unique voice and their own individual stories. This book is an important work of literature because of its insight and depth into the ‘normalized’ African life and the role of women in the semblance of it.

Baba Segi has a secret, but it’s his wives who keep it for him and they’ll do everything to keep it from him.

Pick this book up if you’re interested in African literature and if you generally enjoy a well-written and articulate story.

The book is available on e-book platforms and in select bookstores (for those of you who prefer paperback).

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