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 at what cost.
Bolanle—Babi Segi’s fourth and youngest wife, an educated woman who is emotionally scarred by a horrible incident in her past and marry Baba Segi for refuge. The other wives are jealous of her. but Bolanle inability to conceive may expose shocking truths about them all.
The story in The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives is about Baba Segi and the relationship between him and his four wives, every 5 years Baba Segi takes a new wife. The story is told from several points of view (Baba Segi’s four wives, Baba Segi himself, Segi – his eldest daughter and the driver). Multiple narrators which may be a little confusing at times because I have to read at least a few paragraphs before I could confirm who is actually talking but it is a minor qualm. I immediately like Bolanle. Bolanle is sensible, well educated, tolerant and kind, which puts her on a different league than Baba Segi’s scheming illiterate wives.
This is my first introduction to a book written on Nigeria and by a Nigerian author. It reminds me of my only African reference on the No. 1 Ladies’ detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith and expose to the cultures of Nigeria which see has similarity in most traditional community-based culture whose emphasis is adding pressure on women’s mandate for marriage, childbearing and be a good wife. It’s interesting to note that the Nigerian culture refers to the father and mother by the name of their first born, similar to the Arabic culture, where father of Yusuf is referred as Abu Yusuf (father of Yusuf obviously) or Umi Yusuf (mother of Yusuf). Shoneyin injects humour and colloquial language and descriptions of people of the land. These descriptions brought smile to my otherwise serious reading:
- God gave men bollocks for the weight they lacked in their brains.
- The girl swung her hips like a ripe mango on a tree.
- Mama Alaro and my mother were fat and callous to the eye. When they sat on the bench under the guava tree, it was as though two elephants were swaying on the branch.
- “May you choke with laughter.” reprimand for wicked laugh..
- With each passing hour, the silence in the Alao house grew until it was so sharp it stung the eyes and drew saltwater from the nose. The wives sat in their armchairs and waiting for Baba Segi to return and determine their fates. each one thought of words with which to blame the others but their throats were parched with worry.
The book reminds me of Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones who is deft in masquerading horrific event with light hearted and comical prose. A skill that few could excel.
At first impression, it is easy to hate the scheming wives of Iya Segi and Iya Femi and frown upon the cowardice of Iya Tope. As the story developed and as each character talks about her past, I came to empathise with their pain and plight and the cause that led to their current motives. The book reminds me why in some societies, some women fall prey into the hands of other women especially in the immediate families so as to fight for and retain their domestic ranking in the family and find favours with the head of household, usually the man; these women behave this way because they are not educated or wise enough to find fulfilment and self esteem that comes externally from working hard on a career or contribution to society.
The ending was sad and tragic but appropriate.
I read stories about polygamous marriage mostly from Chinese tales of Emperor’s many wives or from rich businessman’s household. This is my first from the perspective of an African household. The repression of women, the problems are the same, the vindictive tactics are similar but the voice of Africa and Nigerian life is distinct. I highly recommend this book for a good delightful afternoon read and like many other reviews I look forward to read more of Lola Shoneyin’s novels in the future.
Kinna Reads: She got me talking and thinking for a while there. I shall be reading her poems in the meantime.
Iris On Books: The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives was an interesting read. I think I do see why this particular title did not make it to the short list, but I am grateful to have read it nonetheless.
Amy Reads: Definitely an interesting book that I would recommend to anyone who loves a good read and enjoys novels with multiple narrators. I look forward to reading more by Shoneyin in the future.
Aths @ Reading on A Rainy Day: Lola’s writing is very easy to read although her use of some metaphors had me very confused. But ultimately, this book was a very wonderful way to say how looks can be very deceptive and nothing like the person underneath.
Paperback. Publisher: Serpent’s Tail 2011; Length: 245 pages; Setting: Contemporary Nigeria. Source: Reading Battle Library loan. Finished reading on: 9th July 2011.
I am reading this for Magic Lasso’s Orange July challenge.
Some interesting terms gathered from the book:
Àmàlà is a thick brown paste or porridge made from yam skin, which had been peeled, cleaned, dried and then blended into a flour. It is eaten in West Africa, primarily among theYorùbá of Nigeria. Àmàlà is made by slicing yam which is a very popular vegetable in Nigeria, drying and grinding it into yam flour which is then sieved and processed into amala by mixing the powder into boiling water and stirring it to a desired texture.
About the writer:
Lola Shoneyin is a Nigerian poet and author who launched her debut novel, The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives, in the UK in May 2009. Shoneyin has already forged a reputation as an adventurous, humorous and outspoken poet, (often classed in the feminist mould) having published three volumes of poetry. Shoneyin lives in Abuja, Nigeria, with her husband (Olaokun Soyinka) and four children.
Titilola Atinuke Alexandrah Shoneyin was born in Ibadan, the capital of Oyo State, south-western Nigeria, in 1974. She is the youngest of six children and the only girl. Her parents Chief Tinuoye Shoneyin and Mrs Yetunde Shoneyin (nee Okupe) are Remo indigenes from Ogun State. Shoneyin’s work is significantly influenced by her life, notably providing rich material on polygamy for her debut novel; her maternal grandfather, HRH Abraham Olayinka Okupe (1896-1976) was the traditional ruler of Iperu-Remo and had five wives.
At six years old, her parents sent her to boarding school in the UK where she attended, Cargilfield School, Edinburgh; The Collegiate , Winterbourne, Bristol; Fettes Junior School, Edinburgh. Shoneyin returned to Nigeria to complete her secondary education at Abadina College, Ibadan and got her BA (hons) from Ogun State University.