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The Secret Lives of the Four Wives

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3.94  ·  Rating details ·  5,011 ratings  ·  765 reviews
Attempting to rise above the secrets of her past, Bolanle, a university graduate, marries Baba Segi, who promises her everything in exchange for agreeing to become his fourth wife. Thus she enters into a polygamous world filled with expensive clothes, a generous monthly allowance...and three Segi wives who disapprove of the newest, youngest, most educated addition to the f ...more
Paperback, 304 pages
Published July 5th 2011 by William Morrow Paperbacks (first published June 29th 2010)
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3.94  · 
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 ·  5,011 ratings  ·  765 reviews


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Nnedi
Apr 24, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was one of those novels that takes the well trodden (but almost always readable) path of the African women's novel and turns it on it's head. I burned through novels by Buchi Emecheta and Flora Nwapa because of their raw unapologetic honesty in portraying the lives of Nigerian women. Still, after reading six or seven in a row, I'd find myself just fuming with anger and need for justice. Their books weren't about meting out justice or even a bit of rebellion. The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's ...more
Zanna
May 05, 2014 rated it really liked it
Baba Segi is a patriarch, comfortably off but not rich, unsophisticated and boorish but not brutal, sexist but not misogynistic. In return for a home, financial support, and the dubious privilege of sharing their beds with him on allotted nights, the "four wives" of Baba Segi cook, clean up after and pamper him, massaging his ego. Iya Segi, Iya Tope and Iya Femi look after their children, while the newest wife, graduate Bolanle, anxiously waits to fall pregnant, since it's taken for granted by a ...more
Susie Gaines
May 04, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book blew me away. I never thought I'd be interested in a book about Africa; it's usually not my thing. The novel had me hooked after the first page. The language is mesmerising and it was refreshing to read what English sounds like when it has an African feel.

The novel is about a polygamous family that is about to implode but doesn't know it. The newest wife fails to conceive and after two years, the patriarch, Baba Segi, takes her (Bolanle) to a hospital. This is where everything starts t
...more
Margitte
Nigerian author, Lola Shoneyin brought a tender tale of compassion and love to the table with this book.

Baba Segi was a good man. A bit unrefined, and uneducated, but his heart was as big as a baobab tree, and the fruits of his devotion as prolific as a mango tree's. Sweet and irresistible.

It was his fourth wife, Bolanli, the graduate, who would spin his world in reverse when she failed to conceive a child. Was it not for Teacher, who encouraged him to take her to a real doctor, instead of his
...more
Didi
Jun 14, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm so glad I picked up this book, which I found researching books left and right. When I saw that it was a book on polygamy frankly I had no idea what to expect. My first thought was maybe something cliché. What I got was something much more interesting. It was a story I had a lot of trouble putting down although I was forced to because of work. Shoneyin who is more known for her poetry has debuted with a book which analyses polygamy, African tradition, and relationships between men and women w ...more
Leslie Reese
Apr 23, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: african-authors
“From my bedroom I heard my mother sobbing, which was strange because the prospect of death did not usually upset her. She said she wanted to go to heaven and kill my father all over again. She was desperate for me to be married.”

Nigerian Baba Segi is the hardworking, uneducated husband to three wives: Iya Segi, Iya Tope, and Iya Femi; and father to their seven children. Their lives take place in Ayikara as the 20th century is drawing to a close. When Baba Segi takes a fourth wife, Bolanle, laye
...more
Christine Zibas
Apr 26, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As a Western woman who believes in monogamy, I wasn’t sure this tale of Nigerian women in a polygamous marriage would have anything to say to me. Still, once I read the first paragraph, it was nearly impossible to put the tale of “The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives” down. Truly, author Lola Shoneyin has not just given us a glimpse inside the family life of Baba Segi and his four wives, but also a universal tale of secrets, compromises, and human interactions.

The story centers on the dynamic o
...more
Tara Chevrestt
Throughout the first quarter of this novel, I found myself laughing my butt off. Baba Segi is one of the most ignorant men to walk the face of this earth (in fiction anyway.) Sure, men see him as successful because after all, he is able to afford four wives and 7 children and four comfortable armchairs, but this man is not only terribly stupid at times but he also vomits on himself when he gets upset and um, at one point, he poops his pants.

So... by the time I got to the part where the polygami
...more
Christina
The narration of this novel shifts from third person point of view to the first person point of view of Bolanle to the first person point of view of Iya Tope to third person to first person. Sound confusing? It was. Other than marriage, there really wasn’t much stringing these characters and their narratives together. The voices and characters of Baba Segi and the first three wives left much to be desired. Part of my frustration with the narration stemmed from the fact that their was nothing to ...more
Henry Ozogula
Jun 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

Lola Shoneyin's book is one of the most successful and most widely read, received in African literary history (never mind African women's literature). This of course indicates that this work is also widely read in the western world. Indeed some observers sneer at facts like this, claiming that such an author is only largely read by "detached whites' overseas", but this is absurd, as tens of thousands of perceptive African readers abound all over the western world anyway.

Shoneyin is a superb wri
...more
Sterlingcindysu
Apr 21, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: arc
Thanks to William Morrow for a copy!

Poor Baba Segi. I always feel sorry for men who have to handle alot of women in their lives and he's no exception. The women aren't portrayed as warm, loving, caring people. Baba=father. His fourth wife is someone who went to college, and just like Barb in Big Love, you wonder why an educated woman would agree to that. She actually (unknowingly) undoes the secrets of the other wives, yet it's because they don't trust her that she undoes them. Unusual setting,
...more
Titilayo
Dec 20, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
reading this book was like listening to my father tells anecdotes about growing up in elemosho compound. this novel (as well as my dad’s stories) has that "we walked barefoot up a hill six miles in snow every day to get to school after feeding the cows, drawing water from the well, and chopping a ton of wood" tone; but, it is decidedly nigerian. the story was elegant. the purpose driven lives, greed, kinship, jealousy, boldness, malice, naiveté, fear, hypocrisy, and religiosity magnify the symbi ...more
Sheri
This book was just fun. Polygamy is not really my thing, but Shoneyin does a great job representing the ways in which the subservient women hold and display power both among themselves and to their husband. For the most part it was funny, but ultimately things got serious: death, rape and betrayal. In the end it was not really a positive picture for the women.

I liked the switch in point of view. The first few chapters are third person and give the reader an overall sense of the family. Then Shon
...more
Beverly
Jul 13, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: africa
This is the first novel by Lola Shoneyin .I was interested in reading this book because the author has published poetry in the past and in my experience this actually prepares writers for telling their stories in a succient manner, and her father-in-law is Wole Soyinka, so I figured she has access to good literary resources to make sure that she wrote a worthy book. But, I did think that initial storyline sounded a little predictable - a man who has three wives takes an educated fourth wife that ...more
Samir Rawas Sarayji
A compelling look at the lives of four women married to the same man and living under one roof. Indeed, the power of the story is about the 'secrets' of these wives, namely their individual pasts, and on how these secrets will unravel to devastating effects. There's a lot to like in this fast novel, from cultural exposition to good writing, Shoneyin is a writer I would like to read more of.

What I didn't like were the different narrators of each chapter with either first person POV or third pers
...more
Friederike Knabe
Nov 26, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ishola Alao, known as Baba Segi, has a problem that upsets his stomach and general well-being. After two years of trying, his fourth wife still does not show any signs of being pregnant. He already has a stable of kids with his other wives, but what is the use of another marriage if it doesn't give him more offspring? Furthermore, his young wife, "the graduate", has been creating unease and tension between his other wives. It is really beyond him to understand what the reason could be, given tha ...more
B.
Jun 05, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2010
I was given an ARC of this novel by the publisher, William Morrow, an imprint of Harper Collins.

The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives takes place in present day Nigeria and tells the story of Baba Segi and his four wives and seven children. Much of the novel is narrated by Bolanle, the last wife. Her entrance into the family causes turmoil above and beyond the usual upheaval that occurs when a new wife is taken, as it exposes a secret that will change the family forever.

While the novel is set in
...more
Sookie
Apr 05, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literary-fiction
The characters from this book strike a quiet resonance with Indian women; a polygamist husband, complex polygamy dynamics, sexism, patriarchy, superstitious beliefs and a penchant to way of things that have long past deemed as, well, nonsense.

When the husband leaves the house, his four wives enter into a ring that operates on its own bunch of rules. There is petty jealousy, irrational need to oppress another human being, irresponsible hatred, marginalizing the new, religious reverence and unfou
...more
Laura
The four wives' tales intertwine with that of Baba Segi, a Nigerian with four wives. The problem is that the fourth wife, Bolanle, has not conceived a child in two years of marriage, thus setting in motion the unraveling of the lives of everyone in the house. The way in which this family lives will feel different, but having "Big Love" and "Sister Wives" on tv as well as a flood of Mormon polygamist books means that this isn't completely foreign.

Jumping from character to character, we learn the
...more
N. Jr.
Dec 12, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: cross-culture
Although of little relevance, I thought I needed to say that this story reminded me a bit of Su Tong's novella, Raise the Red Lantern, a story of a polygamous family in 1930's China, mainly due to the jealousy and rivalry between 3 wives against the 4th youngest one.

The general pace of the novel is very good, starting off in a lighter tone and getting more serious in the second half, which shows excellent writing. The idea of having the the Point of View vary in the chapters among the wives is a
...more
Dami Ajayi
Lola Shoneyin’s marvelous first novel in 2011, many things struck me about it. The supple narrative woven around monologues. The frenetic head-hopping. The wicked humor. The unabashed sensuality. And its rippling credibility. The novel happened to me in real time, cinematic save for the creaking sound of a video projector.
Ifeyinwa
Dec 07, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed reading this! It's been on my TBR list for years. Although this novel is imperfect (there were some scenes and dialogue that I couldn't connect with), I found it to be a refreshing read.
K.J. Charles
I somehow had the idea this was basically going to be comic or at least triumph-of-human-spirit in some way. It was not. JFC that was a savage book.

It isn't because of Baba Segi either. He's a gross and grossly sexist polygamist, squatting in his position of patriarchal privilege without question, but in fact he's harmed by the cultural milieu like everyone else, and in a weird way his house is a haven for the four horrendously abused (sexually, physically or emotionally) women he marries. He l
...more
Nonhlanhla Mbotini
Our past experiences play a role in shaping our identity and the choices we make.
Fiona
An unexpected book group hit! This was really great, but suffers from a cover design by someone who saw the word "wives" in the title and "Nigeria" in the setting and did not go any further. Plenty more to say about this, but also you should probably get hold of a copy. It is not fluff, however it might be marketed. It's matter-of-fact, is what it is.
Anne
Dec 27, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: indian-fiction
Ok but there are some problems if you aren't into "eastern" literature. A very tenuous sense of place (absolutely no real sense of Nigeria - could have happened in Pakistan!) and appears to be written reflecting "western" sensibilities and context. Did nothing to positively and evocatively demonstrate values within an "eastern" context (which I have absolutely loved in other post colonial lit. Made me visit India twice). Bit sensationalist underpinned by a didactic message. I like eastern lit so ...more
NancyL Luckey
May 29, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Although I can't imagine living in a polygamist situation, the lives of these women were completely believable. Since it was set in "modern-day" Nigeria, I was expecting it to compare to Alexander McCall Smith's series set in Botswana. Absolutely nothing like it except for the talent of the author.
Though you begin knowing Baba Segi and his wives as a whole family, each one has a complicated life leading up to this strange living situation. I could not imagine why an educated modern woman would
...more
Nukta_
Feb 11, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved this.
It felt very classic. High drama, high tragedy, deftly written and dealt with. Poetic justice, proverbs - I like it when a book's liberal with stylistic devices buy not heavy-handed. It would be a great set book. Reading this you understand why Nigerian writing is often considered representative of African lit.
Keith
Sep 25, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I honestly didn't know what to expect when my book club picked this novel but The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives was really good. Lola Shoneyin used a great writing style to tell a story with characters who were both simple and complex at the same time.
Read By RodKelly
Nov 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: books-owned
This is a wonderful novel filled with strong, well-developed characters. The prose is so sharp and energized, and the plot is straightforward and tightly constructed.
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