Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's wives - This is not a review

Plot: Baba Segi's first three wives are very upset about the addition of a fourth wife to their menagerie. They make her life as difficult as possible, but their attacks start to backfire when Baba Segi takes his new wife to the doctor to discover why she can't conceive for him.

Hi People,
I have been away from  blogger this past one week and i must say i missed you all. Usually even if i dont blog, i manage to make my rounds but this past fortnight has been so packed with busyness that i doze in front of my laptop. At least i am happy to find that i suffer not internet withdrawal symptons. I'll find some balance soon and hopefuly will catch up on all ya gist.
Congrats to @tilola on getting published! Will be adding your book to my side bar. My list of famous author friends is increasing! Remember me when you get to your kingdom o.

So I finally finished Lola Shoneyin’s debut novel and can I say I loved it. It's been my conversation starter this past fortnight :). The book sorta sorta started slowly and unlike those who guessed the secret from the beginning I didn’t. It wasn’t until the chaos that accompanied the fertility test results that I started LOL and couldn't wait to get to the end!

A friend described it as …’a more elaborate reproduction of the Nigerian sitcom “Fuji house of commotion”. Maybe. For me, it was an intimate glimpse into a traditional Yoruba polygamous family: the kind of man who heads it, the women who marry him, the chaos, the jealousy, the solidarity. It also drew/threw me back to the city of my alma mater Ibadan.

Baba Segi’s home setting is quite different from the only example I have of polygamy. My childhood friends come to mind. They came from a polygamous home. Their wealthy dad married 3 wives or was it 4??! There were about 20 kids and as a last child who practically grew up alone, I envied them their bustling home, sister-friendships and the ability to swap clothes/books etc. I’m sure there were some internal rivalry, wranglings but surely not death plots as seen in Baba Segi’s wives?!

So I had a rousing argument with two of my friends (Nigerians I must add) who have read the book over lunch last Sunday about the ‘theme’ of the book and the ‘ending’. Z said he neither appreciated the plot (he is the one that compared it to Fuji house) nor could he see a theme. He liked it cause it was an amusing read. Same with J. 
Both said they did not appreciate the ending; that we didn’t get enough of Bolanle to believe in her transformation. That with all that had happened, that simply getting over it and moving on was just too simplistic.

I was on the opposing camp. First I have never looked out for themes per se when reading a book. A book should either entertain me with its plot or the author’s writing style. I would use M and Bs as my case in point. They all have same plot right? But the location, setting, authors style of delivery is what makes one interesting and the other boring (but what do I know!). A book could also educate and here I don’t mean obvious ‘thou shalt not kill’ or thou shalt not commit adultery’. It can enlighten me about a location, a culture, a people, a cause. I think Lola’s book did all that.
Notwithstanding, there was a theme…Lola’s book explored the status of women in a patriarchal society. It’s a bit difficult to identify them cause as a Nigerian, they are situations we accept as normal, moreover they were treated lightly and humorously.
Iya Segi’s mother gave her hard earned money (cause as a woman she was not supposed to love money) to her future husband without her permission.
Iya Tope’s father gave her to Baba Segi in a business exchange.
Iya Femi’s Uncle and Aunt took over her inheritance and sold her into modern day slavery in Grandma’s house where she was subsequently abused by the son.
Bolanle was raped by a man who assumed that she was asking for it.
The obligation to produce a child especially a male child and the status it gives.
Yet, it wasn’t all about oppression. The women weren’t victims. They connive and manipulate to get their way. Be it Iya Segi’s cunning to get her business up and thriving, or Iya Tope's fulfilling sexual affair or Bolanle and her colorful bowls, they had their ways of rebeling and exerting their will on Baba Segi.

Secondly, I thought the ending was fitting. Bolanle wasn’t the main character per se. All the wives were. Bolanle was only the catalyst that triggered off the chain reactions. Bolanle had married Baba Segi not just to hide her shame, but to find herself – even if she didn’t realize it. Her subsequent confessions about prior events were more or less the catharsis that healed her. Ultimately, her infertility gave her a peaceful out as Baba Segi in fairness couldn’t keep her back to bear the brunt of ‘barrenness’ now could he?
I also think Iya Segi’s advice was the only way forward because although Baba Segi is horrifically betrayed by his wives, being an African man, he wouldn’t want the world to know he has been cuckolded not by 1 but 3 wives.

Thirdly, ‘simply getting over things’ and moving on is a cultural thing for us Nigerians. We don’t spend hours talking about issues or pay a shrink to help us. We just fold it away in some deep trunk and move on. Therefore to an extent I could appreciate why/how Bolanle was able to move on.

Lastly, there was a little criticism about her prose. That it was too simplistic. That it wasn’t as tight as a Chimamada’s for example. That it fringed on crudity. I agree, but I think it well-suited her illiterate characters. I believe she wrote in a voice that represented them. The reader is expected to appreciate the absence of a ‘certain refinement’ in their thought processes.

Anyway these are my thoughts. What do you think?

On a lighter note, 5 things I learnt from the book
  1. The saying that only a woman knows the father of her child never came truer than in this book lol
  2. When next I drive past Ayikara in Ibadan I would be on the lookout for Bolanle’s haunts
  3. We live in a lawless society. The burning of the hit and run driver in front of his family gave me goose pimples.
  4. Polygamy exists because men can! Not because of some great love/lust on their parts like I used to think.
  5. A woman’s hoo-ha is akin to a snail’s body. Hmmm, let me go look again..
  6. Sexual dissatisfaction is a silent epidemic amongst families! Haba, how can 4 women sentence themselves to a lifetime of unsatisfactory coupling? No wonder they were always quarreling. And the silly Baba Segi's of the world prolly think themselves 'the man'. Lol.
  7. Baba Segi’s adventures with porn, masturbation and semen collection was hilarious. Funny, I never thought that could be an issue with men. So how do men who abhor masturbation deal with the process when they have to, at least for medical reasons like a fertility tests?


  1. The 7things you learnt from the book are erm interesting lol esp. 2,5 & 7
    I read the book early last year and I enjoyed it. Apart from the 1st chapter that paid too much attention to that Oloyinbo man & his place particularly when he wasn't too significant in d storyline (which is why I think the book started really slow & dull), I liked the drama especially lesbo mama segi. All the characters' actually had crazy issues.
    I would have preferred if Bolanle had withdrawn into herself instead of getting herself a boyfriend after the rape because it trivialised her dilemma which would have made her reason for marrying baba Segi more believable. All in all, it was a good debut

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. I guess I need to read the book to choose a side... lovely review


  4. Aww, Ginger. Thanks for this. I hope to see the book on your side bar soon. I am so so grateful.

    This is a very popular book I haven't read yet. I guess the time is coming soon.

  5. LOL, you're 5 things has now made me want to go and read the book.

    1. Also, you've been tagged!

  6. Ok. Now, I want to read the book. Congrats Ilola. Nice review Gings.

  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. One of my favorite books last year, always lend it to friends after the topic comes up in conversation. The ending and the character of Bolanle make it a morality tale for me but it's a great book.

  9. I have to find a way to read that book

  10. I looooooooooooooooovedd this book. And no. None of the women were victims.

  11. This book God help me I have read over 5 times. i love it

  12. I just nominated you for the Liebster Blog Award. Please visit my blog for more details. Congratulations!

  13. I am a man. I abhor masturbation. I hope I never have to do a fertility test :) Oh, and yes, I should ask you to lend me that book!

    P/S:Why can people post with their Google account but not Yahoo here?

  14. Hi Ginger,

    You have been tagged. Please go to my blog for details.

    Thank you

  15. I LOVE your reviews Ginger. I haven't read the book X_x but I think i'll look for it more actively now.

    Thanks so much for your lovely comments on my blog :D

    Muse Origins

  16. Hi Lady, I have awarded you on my blog..come on over. :)

  17. Hi Ginger,

    I left you a message on your email. Have you seen it?

  18. I lurrrrvvvveeedddd this book. There was drama aplenty. And like Toinlicious said, I didn't see lesbo mama segi coming at all! Like you, I don't look out for themes, I read to be entertained and I was duly entertained. She took serious issues and addressed them in a light hearted manner without trivializing any of those issues. That's fantastic. Love the book and I recommend it to everyone I meet who hasn't read it.

    You've been tagged. Pls go to my blog for the details.

  19. I read this book about 2 months ago, and I could not put it down. Very good read.
    Have you read "Swallow" and "Everything good will come" by Sefi Attah?

  20. i found this book quite interesting... especially the way the man thought he 'owned' the women.. not knowing they had one over him. I somehow felt sorry for the 4th wife... despite the fact she hated it there.. she was still trying to fit in and do her path.. plus the numerous unromantic and unpleasant attempts to get pregnant... ughh.. she must have wished a child just so she wouldn't have to face the ordeal again... interesting twist too.

  21. I read this book last year and found it so funny, yet hard to understand some for characters. Love your review!

  22. I have gained a lot while reading your blog. I will definitely share this information with my friends.
    Thanks for sharing.
    how do i get a loan

  23. Read this book last year, loved it! I've started following your book reviews o, there are a few books you listed that I have to check out. You may want to read E.Osondu's "Voice of America". It is a book of short stories, but it was better than Adichie's "The Thing Around Your Neck" in my opinion. Pretty pleasant read! As for "Americanah, I feel she ran out of steam at the end, but it was a good read, felt more like a true life story cos it is pretty much what happens in real life. Great blog, you have a new fan!



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