Book Review: The Secret Lives of the Four Wives by Lola Shoneyin.
After one of my book reviews, a friend recommended that I should read ‘The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Four Wives’. From the name it sounded like a thought-provoking one. Well, mostly because I was curious about how a polygamous family works, and the fact that there were some secrets that lay there. It’s the story of one Baba Segi and the events that transpire between his four wives as the name suggests – Iya Segi (1st), Iya Tope (2nd), Iya Femi (3rd) and Bolanle (4th). They use the word Iya to mean ‘mother of’.
Baba Segi is the typical traditional man. The sole provider of a large household made up of four wives and seven children by the first three wives. The fourth wife, Bolanle, who’s the most educated and the youngest of the pack is Baba Segi’s prized possession but also the main source of his anguish because she has not borne him any children, which he strongly desires. For him that’s what defines his worth as a man of the household and when they try and his efforts don’t bear fruit, he know it’s time for him to do something about it. And that’s when they take the route that exposes him to something he would have been better of not finding out.
Besides that, there’s the drama that goes on between the wives as they each try to win the affection of their husband. It’s what forms the titillating bits of the book. They each share stories of their backgrounds, where they came from and their childhood experiences; the situation they were in when they met Baba Segi; how they became his wives and how they bore him children; their thoughts of the other wives and what they would do to have the favored position in the household. The first three wives were happy as they were, but when Baba Segi brought in the fourth one, it caused some friction because she was educated. She was a graduate from the University, and they were barely educated, and that made them feel intimidated and it inspired jealousy among them.
Iya Segi was the bride of Baba Segi’s youth. She was a powerful and venomous wife who will stop at nothing to protect her favored position as forerunner of her husband’s home. As Iya Femi would describe her and Iya Tope after the first encounter,
“Everything was grubby but the wives were the worst of all – the aging goat and the shameless goat! One ruled the pond, the other played with its shadow all day!”
Iya Tope was the shy and timid wife, who would keep away any schemes because she feared the outcome and was fond of Bolanle. Iya Femi was the scheming wife, who would go out of her way to ensure that she got what she wanted even if it caused harm. Out of all the wives, she’s the one who was most concerned with her looks and had an expensive taste in fashion, jewelry and make up; while Iya Segi was enterprising, she loved money.
Since they were they were all jealous of Bolanle, they didn’t let her in on the big secret. And to their surprise, her wisdom leads her to unlocking the secret that exposes the shocking truth about the other wives and Baba Segi himself, and it becomes a determining factor on their staying power. But to Bolanle, this was an awakening, a shake off a bad dream, and an opportunity to do it right.
As she says,
“I will remember them as inmates, because what really separates us is that I have rejoined my life’s path’ they are going nowhere.”
“Don’t think I can’t see the challenges ahead of me. People will say I a secondhand woman. Men will hurt and ridicule me but I won’t let them hold me back. I will remain in the land of the living. I am back now and the world is spread before me like an egg cracked open.” ~ Bolanle
The book is definitely a must read, Shoneyin an amazing writer. She tells the story through narratives,where each of the wives tells their side of story. It sheds some light on the traditions/cultures that exist in our African society. From how polygamy was used to dominate women; and how women despite possessing so much wisdom, would aspire towards marriage without giving any thought to (or disregarding) education, career or financial independence, as those were seen as a man’s aspiration. That’s the reason they got into such set ups and never had a say in it, or guarded it with their might, because besides being guaranteed financial security, it was the way of life. Love was a far fetched idea, it had to be endured.
Ps: I got it from TBC, Thika Road Mall and it costs about KES 1,990.
Signing Off ~~~ *Kawi*