Trishnyc's Reviews > The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives

The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives by Lola Shoneyin
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's review
Apr 20, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: best-of-2011

After two years of marriage, Baba Segi cannot understand why his newest wife, Bolanle, has not had a child. After all his three other wives have multiple children between them, so he wonders why Bolanle cannot make him proud and produce a child. He tries to take her to the local voodoo priests or any charismatic religious leaders he may heard of but she refuses to go calling them charlatans. Finally he decides to appeal to her educated mind and mandates that she sees a doctor.

Bolanle's arrival into Baba Segi's household was greeted by derision from her mother and jealousy and fear from Baba Segi's current wives. Because she is university educated, the wives immediately assume that she will arrive with airs and look down on the rest of them. But Bolanle though extremely naive, does not mean them ill and tries to assimilate and offer help, even offering to teach the illiterate wives how to read. This offer is received with derision and scorn. Even her attempts to befriend the children of the household is rebuffed as it is obvious the children have been instructed to steer clear of her. Soon, Bolanle spends most of her time in her room and avoids her co wives.

Each of the three wives has an origin story that gives a fascinating insight into who they are and how they came to be that way. Iya Segi, Baba Segi's first wife, is uprooted from her home by a mother who though she spent Iya Segi's formative years telling her that all men were bad, is determined to marry her off. Iya Tope, Baba Segi's second wife, seems to be a bit of a simpleton but one who with a good heart, married off as payment when her father's cassava plants have a bad harvest. Iya Femi, the third wife, is sent to the city as a maid by her uncle after her parents' untimely death. Here she suffers under the harsh rule of her mistress a pitiless woman who tortures her by over working her and never paying her for fifteen years. So when Baba Segi suddenly announces his intention to take another wife, the wives are understandably uneasy. But they never give Bolanle a chance and go out of their way to make her life as lonely as possible. Only Iya Tope is good to her but she is a coward by nature and can barely stick up for herself. It is this need to discredit and destroy Bolanle that eventually becomes the undoing of the whole family. Through Bolanle, long held secrets and customs come to the fore front and are exposed.

I loved so many things about this book. Its ability to capture Nigeria, its culture, traditions and family life was absolutely fascinating. The lies some feel is necessary to sustain and hold unto the things considered dear, the need to avoid gossip by conformity and the fear of things we don't understand are all very well explored here. But oddly enough the weakest character in the book turns out to be Bolanle. Whereas the other wives even in all their evil machinations presented a multilayered and complex study, Bolanle turned out to be a bit of a bland character. She was extremely sympathetic, treated people fairly but at the end of the day, she was too cookie cutter. Her motivations for marrying Baba Segi never made sense to me and seemed like hollow excuses for an irrational decision. Her parents were not pressuring her to get married, in fact they were vehemently again her marrying a man they saw as a buffoon. Her education should have allowed her to find a nice paying job. But instead she chooses to marry a man she obviously does not love and enter a polygamous household as a fourth wive. It just didn't make sense.

Also please note there is an excessive need to describe Baba Segi's virility that kinda began to annoy me after a while. We get it, he is well endowed and treats sex like a combat sport. Enough already.

**Review Copy received from William Morrow, a division of Harper Collins.

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