When Baba Segi woke up with a bellyache for the sixth day in a row, he knew it was time to do something drastic about his fourth wife's childlessness.
For Baba Segi, his collection of wives and gaggle of children are a symbol of prosperity, success, and a validation of his manhood. All is well in this patriarchal home until Baba arrives with wife number four: a quiet, college-educated, young woman named Bolanle. Jealous and resentful of this interloper who is stealing their husband's attention, Baba Segi's three wives begin to plan her downfall. How dare she offer to teach them to read, they whisper. They vow to teach her a lesson instead. What they don't know is that Bolanle hides a terrible secret - a secret that unwittingly exposes the deception and lies upon Baba Segi's household rests.
A stirring tale of men and women, mothers and children, servitude and independence, The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives illuminates the common threads that connect the experiences of all women: the hardships they bear, their struggle to define themselves, and their fierce desire to protect those they love.
"Shoneyin masterfully disentangles four distinct stories, only to subtly expose what is common among them." - Publishers Weekly
"A rich debut... an engrossing and beautifully written domestic tale of polygamy and rivalry set in her native Nigeria." - Harper's Bazaar
"This first novel is a compelling, unsettling tale of a polygamous household, and the women within Baba Segi's walls. Shoneyin's sharply written portrait of a family and a nation gripped by the past yet surging into modernity, manages to be funny, disconcerting and violent all at once. An utterly gripping read." - Patricia Duncker
"For a first novel, The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives surprises as a powerful, mature and absorbing work of fiction. Lola Shoneyin reprises in this novel many of the strengths and virtues of her poetry: the use of language with both precision and evocative power; considerable technical skill in capturing and transfiguring minute details of individual lives and social experience; exploration and celebration of women's lives and experiences with candor, grit, wit and insight. Like the proverbial pebble dropped in a pond, this novel will continue to haunt the reader's imagination with suggestive ripples of wonder, sadness and delight long after the last page has been turned." - Biodun Jeyifo, Harvard University
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Rated of 5
Maggie R. (Canoga Park, CA)
Another kind of Big Love
We learn about others through reading their stories. Not only are the women we meet here of a different culture, they also share their secrets and reveal their individuality in the context of polygamous marriage via first person narratives. Engaging, unusual yet recognizably like ourselves, they give this book its hold over the reader.
Rated of 5
Beverly J. (Huntersville, NC)
Nothing Is What It Seems
I was interested in reading this book as the author has written several books of poetry and it has been my experience that authors who write poetry write fiction very succinctly. But, I did expect the storyline to be predictable, with a polygamous husband who three wives do not like when he picks a young educated woman to be his fourth wife.
What I got was a beautifully written story that was anything but predictable. There are many unexpected events that will keep you reading to the last page. The husband and each wife take turns narrating their story which takes place in the present and goes back in time to add context, but the reader is never confused about who is narrating or if it is the present or past. This story will have you looking at polygamous relationships in a new light and have you wondering about the benefits and how this arrangement changes as society changes. This is a wonderful debut book and I look forward to reading more by Lola Shoneyin.
Rated of 5
Heather C. (Tallahassee, Florida)
This book captured my imagination and allowed me to view an unseen culture. I found it extremely easy to look past the shock of polygamy from a western perspective, and see the universal struggles of women. The situations and actions of the characters seem cruel and desperate, yet carefully conceived and carried out.
This book was an intriguing read and impossible to put down until I finished. It seemed slow for the first few chapters, but developed into a complex and interesting story. All of the wives were intelligent in their own ways, and Baba Segi maintained antiquated beliefs involving family. The contrast between members of the entire family made this book entertaining and thought-provoking.
I would highly recommend this book to open-minded readers who enjoy new experiences!
Rated of 5
Katharine K. (Alpine, CA)
I had no trouble being engaged by this book. I was sometimes appalled by the meanness and outright cruelty of some of the characters, but as the individual stories unfolded insight was provided into why they behaved the way they did. I had some trouble at the beginning of the chapters trying to figure out who was narrating, but it all becomes clear as you move forward in the story. I enjoyed this book and would definitely encourage others to read it.
Rated of 5
Kimberly H. (Stamford, CT)
A modern day tale of polygamy in Nigeria
I loved this book. Beautifully written - I felt like I was in the house with all of these fiercely protective women and their children. Love, loss, independence, servitude - its all here in a wonderfully written, "couldn't put it down" book.
Rated of 5
Pamela B. (Monona, WI, WI)
The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives
The story surrounds the impact the addition of a fourth wife, Bolanle, has on Baba Segi's household. Bolanle is university educated, something the other wives are not. Not all is as it seems as jealousy and a family secret threaten them all. The book was a little difficult to read, as the chapters are written in first person from the view of each of the wives, and it is not always easy to determine which wife is "speaking".
Lola Shoneyin was born in Ibadan, Nigeria, but spent most of her childhood at boarding school in Edinburgh, Scotland. She studied English at Ogun State University. She lives in Abuja where she teaches English and Drama at a local school. She writes a weekly blog for a newspaper syndicate and her work has appeared in the London Times. She was a fellow of the Iowa International Writer's Program and has published two volumes of poetry and numerous short stories. She is married to Olaokun Soyinka, the son of Nobel Prize-winner Wole Soyinka. They have four children. She can be found online at lolashoneyin.com
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