The secret lives of Baba Segi’s wives- By Lola Shoneyin
This book is about a man, Baba Segi, who has 4 wives. He lives in a huge house in which all 4 of his wives co habit with all their children. The book begins with Baba Segi going to seek the wise counsel of a man they all call Teacher who resides in a seedy part of town . The issue is the barrenness of his 4th university educated wife.
The story is told in the voices of each of the wives, who speaks of how she came to be Baba Segi’s wife. Each woman has a somewhat sad tale about their past and Baba Sego emerges as the one who saved them from their plight. This book is very well written and the characters are well developed and real. One cannot help but feel for Iya Segi, who is a closet lesbian whose unfulfilled sexuality is channeled into making money. Iya Tope is a colorless, timid individual who, next to Iya Femi is a wilting violet. Iya Femi ‘s story as an ill-treated maid is the saddest of all. One can understand her vengeful nature and her ruthlessness in dealing with her enemies, all done of course in the name of Jesus! Enter Bolanle the university graduate, who married an illiterate man. Baba Segi’s lust for Bolanle’s educated mind turns his peaceful household upside down. Talk about education bringing light into dark places! A colossal secret is exposed, one that has the potential to destroy the well organized household.
Then Baba Segi rises to the occasion and he once again emerges the savior of these women and the children. Left to their own devices, these women scheme, plot and form unholy alliances to confront a common enemy. Despite their secret hatred for each other, they come together when the need arises, to deal with what they perceive as a threat to their very existence as a family. Bolanle is that threat, with her education and her sophistication…and then her barrenness. Their dislike for Bolanle results in a tragic accident which threatens to unravel the whole set up.
The story climaxes with Baba Segi faced with the toughest decision of his life. He is a man who has been made to question everything about his life and to confront the worst news that any man can ever receive from a doctor….One is almost thankful that Baba Segi seems not to have the ability to think deeply about issues or to reflect on the actual meaning of the events that unmask his life to be one big lie. I think it is this simplicity of mind that is his ultimate salvation.
I won’t give too much away. You will have to read this one. If I sound obscure it is intentional. Read the book! You will not regret it. Lola’s writing is startlingly blunt and her descriptions unusual. This, and a captivating story make for a compelling, fast paced read.
It is interesting that polygamy described in the book is very different from the polygamous setup I am familiar with. In Zimbabwe the wives each live separately each having their own home or group of huts. This cohabitation in one house is a recipe for total chaos. The rivalries among the wives can get really intense.