The story of Baba Segi and his four wives as told by Lola Shoneyin is a page flipper. I interact with African literature often but I can’t remember giggling and cracking up between paragraphs like I did with this one. Africanised English has never sounded so real and raw like it does in The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives. Set in a patriarchal Nigerian society, this is the story of the struggles of four women in a society that has deeply entrenched toxic masculinity, subjugation of women and cultural misogyny.
Lola scorns at patriarchy and polygamy through effortless humour and satire. The delicate fusion of the two reveals the domineering nature of Baba Segi and the subjugation of his wives. You are definitely going to laugh at Baba Segi’s obsession with “planting his seeds” in his wives. Isn’t an African man revered by the number of children he sires? And isn’t the woman the victim of sterility if and when it happens? His attempts to “fill” his fourth wife’s stomach are in utter futility. With a litter of children from his other wives, Baba Segi is convinced that his educated wife is the problem.
Baba Segi’s wives live with devastating secrets. Lola tells the story both in the first and third person points of view. The first-person narration allows the characters tell their stories without limitation. You will definitely love the unraveling of numerous secrets. Of the many secrets, one is grand and shared only among the first three wives. It must be guarded. And guard it they do. However, the entry of the educated fourth wife, Bolanle, disturbs the sustainability of this secrecy.
Bolanle represents a modern woman trapped in the shadows of her troubled past. I was curious to understand why she got married to an uneducated, condescending man and I shared her Mother’s pain. I felt that the ending for her was quite unsatisfying. Merely escaping from Baba Segi and his melodramatic wives was not enough. I would have loved a peep into her emancipated future.
Bolanle represents a modern woman trapped in the shadows of her troubled past.
I enjoyed this read and definitely recommend it to anyone looking for thrilling piece of African literature. If you wish to marvel at a completely enchanting novel, get this one.