Book Review: The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives

segiTitle: The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives
Author: Lola Shoneyin
288 pages
Year Published:
Format Read:

Why I Read It: When it first came out, I saw quite a few raving reviews about it and always planned to read it but never got around to it. Now that I’m working through my Nigerian Literature list, it seemed like the most opportune time to grab my copy.

Synopsis: Meet Baba Segi . . . A plump, vain, and prosperous middle-aged man of robust appetites, Baba Segi is the patriarch of a large household that includes a quartet of wives and seven children. But his desire to possess more just might be his undoing. And his wives . . . Iya Segi—the bride of Baba Segi’s youth, a powerful, vindictive woman who will stop at nothing to protect her favored position as ruler of her husband’s home. Iya Tope—Baba Segi’s second wife, a shy, timid woman whose decency and lust for life are overshadowed by fear. Iya Femi—the third wife, a scheming woman with crimson lips and expensive tastes who is determined to attain all that she desires, no matter what the cost. Bolanle—Babi Segi’s fourth and youngest wife, an educated woman wise to life’s misfortunes who inspires jealousy in her fellow wives . . . and who harbors a secret that will expose shocking truths about them all.

Review: Let me start by saying: I. Adore. This. Book. It was such a fabulous read! Once I finished my first though was “I wonder if she’s written anything else?” Shoneyin does a great job of  using words to portray the personality of not only her characters but the settings also.

I was captivated from the first chapter. The way Baba Segi was described, his thoughts, his destination, his point of origin left me wanting to know more. I wanted to know about this home he just came from and the young wife that had driven him once again to Ayikara, what I like to refer to as the den of iniquity. While Baba Segi is seen as being successful due to the number of wives and children he has, we come to realize that he really isn’t all that. He is what I like to think of as the typical Nigerian* man in the sense that he believes he’s the king of his world. His wives are simply there to serve him and they better be ready to serve him when he wants them to. Even the way he has sex is “typically Nigerian”.

This story about the four wives living under one roof is a tale well spun. Shoneyin doesn’t skim on delivering a dose of some people’s realities to her readers. Her words make you cringe from pity, makes your blood boil at the injustice done to women in Nigeria and even makes you laugh. I literally laughed out loud a few times during this book. Each wife is extremely different and Shoneyin does a good job of letting us know where they came from and why they are the way they are, for the most part.

Bolanle is the only educated and last wife to come into the house, and when she is unable to conceive a child, Baba takes her to the hospital to figure out what the problem with her womb is. It is from here that the Alao household begins to unravel. Bolanle is scorned by the wives because their portions of Baba have been reduced due to her arrival. Her subsequent doctors visits forces the secrets of each individual wife to light.

I remember reading a few reviews from people who didn’t like that the book isn’t written from one characters’ perspective, but rather from all the major ones. I actually liked that about the book. The different perspectives did 2 things for me: 1. It made me wonder who exactly was speaking, and when characters are recapping their background/childhood, it was interesting to discover whose history I just read or guess who I thought was talking. 2. It was easier for me to sympathize with each character, their points of view are written like they are talking to the reader and even when it was characters I despised talking, I got to really see them.

This is definitely a book you should pick up if you haven’t already. I repeat, it’s a fabulous read.

*I use the phrase typical Nigerian because he is the perfect mold for the stereotype of the Nigerian man. I definitely understand that not all Nigerian, probably most, are like Baba.

Have you read this book? What was your take on it?