Title of Book: The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives
Author: Lola Shoneyin, Nigeria
Publisher: Cassava Republic, Nigeria, 2010
Lola Shoneyin, extreme right, Nadine Gordimer in middle and Ekbal Baraka, extreme left at the 2nd African Women Writers' Symposium, Johannesburg, 2011. Picture by BNN
It’s that much more delightful to meet an author before reading their book which was my extended privilege. During the second African women writers’ Symposium in Johannesburg, 2011, I met the ebullient Lola Shoneyin, who I discovered owns 3 pet dogs. Her book, The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives, is most underrated in East Africa at least and needs more presence. The over-riding visual of polygamy and the individual lives of the wives is dotted with mind play, sexual power, friendship, enmity and the role of children in families. There are many incidents that set the believable and humorous scenes throughout the story for example, at Dr. Dibia’s hospital room, when the real reason behind the failure to conceive is revealed.
The four wives to Baba Segi, whose lives they revolve around, teach us something about determination, good over evil and evil over good, maternal love and the power of eros. More importantly are the fertility of both the womb and the mind. While a fertile womb can give you children, a fertile mind can give you anything you want, which evident in Bolanle’s character from the beginning to the end.
While it is difficult to empathise with some characters, the flashbacks into their deep and dark tortured pasts can give the reader some feeling of empathy and understanding. Polygamy has been brought to life in an interesting, witty and entertaining way by giving it a personality that can hardly be forgotten. While it is easy sometimes to judge women in certain situations, this book takes that away.
A must read.
Reveiwed by Beverley Nambozo Nsengiyunva