Thursday, 8 May 2014
The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives by Lola Shoneyin
I've seen The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives described elsewhere as a tragicomedy, and that label is just perfect for it. Shoneyin deals with some pretty weighty issues like the role of women in Nigerian society, the views of different classes on polygamy and domestic abuse, but it's always done with a light touch and a bit of black humour. Baba Segi wants to keep his wives hidden away, announces that Bolanle's infertility shames him and doesn't hesitate to assault her, but he's also a comically pathetic figure, bought down by the women in his life. Shoneyin's talent for finding the humour and pathos in tragic situations means that the book never feels too depressing or preachy.
As I read The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives, I was most interested in the examination of the role of women in Nigeria. There's references to domestic violence being seen as a waste of police time, a woman discussing her rape is assumed to be a liar and women are frowned upon for wearing trousers. Through the wives' stories and the power they had seized for themselves over the course of their marriage, Shoneyin's novel is quietly feminist, and we get to see glimpses of a newer Nigeria, in which women are more valued. Of course, whilst I was reading this novel, the news was full of the story about the kidnapping of 200 Nigerian schoolgirls and the intent to sell them into slavery, so it's clear that women still have a long way to go.
I really would recommend The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives. It examines some interesting issues through a story that is quick, engaging and a lot of fun to read. If I had the time, I could have read it all in one sitting. It shines a light on a polygamous marriage in Africa in a non-judgemental way and it's a book that hasn't really left my thoughts since I finished reading it.
Source: Personal copy (kindle)
First Published: 2009
Score: 5 out of 5