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“The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives” by Lola Shoneyin receives Rave Reviews in the Maiden Issue of the BN Book Review

BellaNaija.com

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In this maiden issue of the BN Book Review, we have chosen to review “The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives“, the highly acclaimed first novel by Lola Shoneyin. In a book which uses humour, charm and what can only be described as astute literary skill, Lola Shoneyin sheds light on a deeply rooted aspect of Nigerian culture –  Polygamy. Two members of our Book Review Panel, Myne Whitman and Chiedu Ifeozo give us their candid opinion on the book, and if their opinions are anything to go by, Lola is definitely on to a winner with her debut book.

About the Book

For a polygamist like Baba Segi, his collection of wives and a gaggle of children are the symbol of prosperity, success and validation of his manhood. Everything runs reasonably smoothly in the patriarchal home, until wife number four intrudes on this family romance.

Bolanle, a graduate amongst the semi-literate wives, is hated from the start. Baba Segi’s glee at bagging a graduate doesn’t help matters. Worse, Bolanle’s arrival threatens to do more than simply ruffle feathers. She’s unwittingly set to expose a secret that her co-wives intend to protect, at all costs.

Lola Shoneyin’s light and ironic touch exposes not only the rotten innards of Baba Segi’s polygamous household in this cleverly plotted story; it also shows how not educated or semi-literate women, in contemporary Nigeria can be as restricted, controlled and damaged by men – be they fathers, husbands, uncles, rapists – as they’ve never been (Synopsis from publisher, Cassava Republic).

Myne’s Review

The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives is a book that explores the dynamics of a polygamous home in urban (circa 2001) Ibadan in Nigeria. It is told with a dry wit, very satirical and earthy. The author employs irony and honesty in equal bits as she carefully develops her characters, each chapter – except for the first – is told from the point of view of all the major characters. This makes the plot line more interesting as the reader has the back story filled in by installments. So a story which could have been hackneyed becomes elevated by the voices of the character-narrators, to something higher, more like a psychological study of these women in this polygamous home.

Chiedu’s Review:

After first discovering her poetry in 2007, I’ve been a follower of Lola Shoneyin’s work. I became intrigued by the captivating title of one of her collections aptly labeled as, “So all the time I was sitting on an egg”, but the fantastic thing about Shoneyin is that there’s more to her work than just a catchy poetic title.

In this book, Lola spins a tale, bound by such natural & flowing humor that the reader is immediately caught up in a sense of warmth or understanding for the characters, even where they are the antagonists.

The book intendeds to portray what could be the different mirrors of a polygamous marriage, told from different points of view. Set in Nigeria, Lola paints an interesting perspective on such a thorny issue by speaking mainly through the wives. She attempts to build a familiar relationship between the reader and these women, by connecting us to the how, the why and the ways in which these women have managed to cope in what is a clearly difficult environment to the observer.

Through the character Bolanle, Lola attempts to be the voice of reason & society. Bolanle seems the obvious misfit in the household, as she’s an educated university graduate joining the family as the fourth wife. On the surface, it’s hard to understand why she’s gone into polygamy. However that is the beauty of the human element at the heart of this story, all of the characters come across as ordinary people, on different paths, but trying to survive all the same.

Baba Segi’s character, who likes to appear in control of his household, is unaware, as with most polygamous households, that there’s a lot going on right under his nose, yet his male ego is kept protected.

What Myne loved: I loved this style of narration, and the language employed by the author in the book. It is warm, lively, and sometimes, tongue in cheek. Lola Shoneyin is first a poet, and it shows in this novel. Her use of metaphors and similes were spare, but very fitting, and the imagery in most instances very lucid. There was very little verbosity, and it was effortless to hear the voices of the characters in my head. I later read a commentator mention that the author uses a kind of English from transliterated Yoruba, I don’t know how true this is since I do not speak Yoruba, but the style certainly works for me in the book.

It is not only the style and language that refreshes in this book, but the empathy with which the women of Baba Segi are portrayed. They are not ‘tear-eye’ monsters out to use Baba Segi’s money for lace and gold, neither are they lazy buffoons, content to sit on their backside just because they are now married to an affluent man. In addition to their back stories; Iya Segi as an shrewd businesswoman, Iya Tope as industrious, if slow-witted, and Iya Femi as a hardworking maid with dreams of marrying the madam’s son; they are as wives who bear this stirring secret, women you find it easy to identify with, to cheer on, to like, even if not love. Even when their secrets drive them to extremes of behavior and tragedy, we still see the humanity that lies beneath.

Lola Shoneyin’s book is a definite conversation starter and is written with an occasional humor that only adds to the depth of the work. The book tackles the sometimes deplorable status of women in Nigeria, and is not afraid to say it like it is. The author writes about real issues and real women, and made an often-told story one that engages and edifies. There are many secrets in this book, just like a lot of us have in our lives, and it is sometimes only by letting the secret out that we achieve true liberty. This was an enjoyable book and I will recommend it to anyone.

What Chiedu Loved: The book is littered with astute statements from the characters who display a certain sense of wit that is uniquely theirs, here are just a few;

“When we stand before God on the last day, will he ask whether we went to university” -p66

“Men are like yam. You cut them how you like” –p75 and my favorite

“Those educated types have thin skins, they are like pigeons. If we poke her with a stick, she will fly away and leave our home in peace” –p53

Having chapters written from multiple perspectives could be difficult for some readers to follow as the story moves from one character to the next, but I would say Lola handled this task well, and the result turns out not to be as confusing as it may first appear.

I found “The secret lives of baba Segi’s wives” an interesting read. Beautifully written, it hits a deep personal tone with the reader thereby making it easy to relate to. Though it’s entertaining and humorous, it is at the same time thought provoking and does a good job at holding up a mirror to the roles and treatment of women in the traditional Nigerian marriage.

Things Myne could have done Without: There are only a couple of things that grated in this book. I have to point out that is just personal, and could be because I already knew of the author’s bias before, from previous interviews she gave in promotion of the book. It is clear that she does not care for polygamy and even though she avoided the authorial narrative, this bias was still apparent as I read Baba Segi’s wives. I prefer reading stories where it is left to me to make my judgments on the themes explored, rather than being force-fed. In a country like Nigeria, where a woman’s status is still so closely tied to whether she’s married and who she’s married to, I felt it was a bit disingenuous to make polygamy the bogeyman.

The other issue that did not tie together for me was the character of Bolanle. She is at the same time wise to the ways of the world and yet so weak-willed to be almost unrecognizable. A college graduate who makes the choice to marry a man who already had three wives, it struck me as very odd that she would accept all the humiliation in the Baba Segi household. It would have been more believable if it had been for a few months or a year, but this went on for several years. Cowed by her mother, as well as the other wives, she was fulfilled buying crockery (of all things!) from the local market. One is left to worry that she will continue to make mistakes with her life, and there may be no happenstance to save her.

____________________________________________________________________________________________
Now that we have the official opinion of our reviewers, we would love to hear your own opinion on the book. Have you read “The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives” by Lola Shoneyin? What were your thoughts? Are they similar to our review panel or completely opposite? Does the book do a good job of addressing the cultural issue of polygamy and the treatment of Nigerian women in society or does it merely scrape the surface of what is a deeper more entrenched issue? If you are yet to read the book, does our review encourage you to do so? Let us know!

March 2011 Edition of BN Book Review

We have a bumper edition planned for March. We will be reviewing two books, from Cassava Republic. Kemi’s Journal and its sequel Zack’s Story by Abidemi Sanusi. In Kemi’s Journal, Abidemi tells a story of a twenty something, high flying, born again Christian woman who struggles between her new found commitment to Jesus and her other more secular pleasures. The second book, Zack’s Story, provides us the opportunity to hear Zack, her boyfriend’s, side of the story. The book throws up various issues which tear at the heart of the moral decisions many of us can relate to-virginity, race, religion, etc. Zack’s story also gives us a first hand glance into the man’s perspective of things. The review of both books will be done by Nkechi Eze and Chiedu Ifeozo, both reviews promise to be riveting!

But before we publish the review, how about we give away the books first? For a chance to win copies of either Kemi’s Journal or Zack’s Story please answer the following questions:

1. Who are the members of the BN Book review Panel?

2. Abidemi’s book, was short listed for the 2010 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, what is the title of the book?

Send your name, address and telephone number along with the answers to the above questions to [email protected] Please make sure the subject of your email is BN BOOK REVIEW COMPETITION. Only successful entrants will be contacted. Winners MUST be able to pick up their prize (or arrange for their prize to be collected on their behalf) from Bella Naija office in Lagos. Employees of BainStone & Bella Naija and Cassava Republic may not apply.

The winners of our last BN Book Review competition are Adenike Oke and Jumoke Aderemi. Congratulations! You will be contacted shortly by a member of our Contest team.

32 Comments

  1. voicy

    February 22, 2011 at 11:53 am

    Nice1,hayyyyyyy first to comment!!!!

    • THE AMAKA

      February 22, 2011 at 1:50 pm

      CONGRATS!!!! when you receive your prize from Bella, be sure to tell us all about it! lol
      🙂

    • jite

      February 22, 2011 at 2:59 pm

      This is becoming officially B-O-R-I-N-G! Amaka the first stalker!!! Oh and btw, lol!!

  2. Ade

    February 22, 2011 at 12:19 pm

    I like this section of BellaNaija…The book seems like a good read

  3. ANJAY

    February 22, 2011 at 12:35 pm

    I GOT THE BOOK YESTERDAY……..YAY!!

    • lurlah

      February 22, 2011 at 2:47 pm

      please where did u get it from?

  4. Anonymous

    February 22, 2011 at 1:10 pm

    where can one get this book in lagos?

    • Emilayetorokan

      February 24, 2011 at 2:15 pm

      terrakulture

  5. Tomi Oladepo

    February 22, 2011 at 1:10 pm

    I have not read the book yet, but the reviews tick all my boxes. The most important element is not missing – BALANCE.
    I look forward to more book-reviews on Bella Naija.
    http://www.teesdiary.wordpress.com

  6. Ace

    February 22, 2011 at 2:17 pm

    I read this book a few weeks back…randomly stumbled upon it in a book shop in London! I must say, its a thoroughly amusing read! The only times I managed to put it down were when slumber engulfed me! 🙂

  7. lurlah

    February 22, 2011 at 2:40 pm

    please where can i get the book and how much does it go for? Can d details be sent to [email protected]. thank you very much

  8. Chibaby

    February 22, 2011 at 3:05 pm

    I want to read the book. where can I get it here in US?

  9. tushriket

    February 22, 2011 at 4:50 pm

    chibaby,if you want to read the book,check out from the public library in your county,i just got mine ready for pick up from miami dade library.Can’t wait

  10. Click on Link Below to order.

    February 22, 2011 at 5:02 pm

    http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0061946370/shelfari-20
    Amazing book! Couldn’t put it down from start to finish. Hope there is a continuation in works though.

  11. O

    February 22, 2011 at 5:19 pm

    just order it on amazon or something… i just got mine, read it in the few hours that i was ment to be working, couldn’t put it down and now i am behind on my work smh! it was good though…

  12. JasmineGld

    February 22, 2011 at 6:18 pm

    The review makes me want to read the book. I’m disappointed, although not surprised, that the book contains an anti-polygamy bias. I’m pleased that the reviewer pointed this out. I’ll refer it to a professor I know with some experience in the subject.

  13. Uzo

    February 23, 2011 at 10:50 am

    Loved this book and breezed through it in a day. Despite it being an easy read, it touched on a lot of intense subjects that our society keeps well under wraps – rape, lesbianism, impotence…Well done.

    Looking forward to the review for March. Read both books ages ago so it will be fun to get another perspective.

    Love this new addition to BN features. A welcome break from all the ‘society’ stuff.

  14. Ready

    February 23, 2011 at 11:14 am

    The title alone made me so excited about this book, and I definitely trust Myne Whitman’s judgment on books…Just requested my copy from the library. It’s about to be on!

    • Ready

      March 7, 2011 at 1:14 am

      K…so, I read the book, and it was interesting. I found the characters to have contrasting qualities and I think the use of the ‘f’ word was inconsistent with the tone of the book…it just felt out of place and unnecessary. I like that the book highlighted the sometimes dysfunctional dynamic of some working families; the educated father who despite his love for his kids turns to drinking because of his wife’s domination and becomes absent in his kids’ upbringing; the mother who works her fingerst to the bone so that her kids can have the best but ends up pushing them away.
      I found certain things lacking though…the relationship between Segun and Bolanle, trivial as it may be, was left unresolved; it appeared that Bolanle learned certain things from being with him, but somehow that didn’t stop her from making similar mistakes; it appears that the character of Iya Segi did not fully understand/assimilate the impact of losing a daughter and it seems to be a departure from her vindictive self to let Iya Femi go without punishing her for murdering her daughter. Furthermore, I don’t understand the resolution of Teacher’s character…the final thoughts he had in his head indicated that he had ulterior motives that went beyond getting more patronship for his hangout spot. And Baba Segi…I understand that he’s not a mean man and might have felt overwhelmed by all the revelations and occurrences, but a man with so much ego and pride as a result of his fertility and wealth is not likely to let go of the matter as quickly as he did.
      I understand that not all novels can be resolved as the reader wants, but perhaps this should have been a longer novel. In all, I’d definitely recommend it to other readers…it’s an easy and entertaining read (1 day tops) that touches briefly on social issues such as bribery of gov’t officials just to have electricity, the continued diminishment of young women in poor communities, the hardships of farmers in unfriendly weather conditions, and privilege.
      BTW: Is it okay to complain about the quality of the materials of the book? I loved the cover art, but the edges of pages were unevenly cut and tore with the slightest effort.

  15. pyeri gal

    February 23, 2011 at 11:23 am

    Stupid as it may sound, from the book title, i actually thot it was a story about our former president

  16. ufedo

    February 23, 2011 at 12:00 pm

    i have read the book and i totally agree with myne whitman. the character of bolanle i felt wasnt properly developed., seemed weak willed in baba segi’s household but was firm enough to stand up to her mother in insistence of marrying baba segi… it wasnt an ultimately satisfying read but i still love anything nigeria. i’d give it a 6/10.

  17. Popella

    February 23, 2011 at 3:22 pm

    Great idea, BN! I loved this book. I picked it up in London after someone posted a comment about it facebook. Myne’s interpretation is literal whereas the novel deserves a more literary reading. I am inclined to agree with Chiedu who sees Bolanle as being representative of the passive, educated but vulnerable lower middle class. I don’t think Bolanle was under-developed at all. Anyone who understands depression will understand her. She was acting true to life, which isn’t always what we want. When characters don’t do what we want, we should ask ourselves why.
    There was such poetry in this novel. I feel daft for not guessing she was a poet. When I read novels, I don’t looking for satisfaction; I generally want resolution and Shoneyin delivers on this. I think the message in the novel is that we still have a long way to go, and it will take another generation to sort out some of the social issues in Nigeria. I highly recommend. 10/10.

  18. Tina Ike

    February 23, 2011 at 7:10 pm

    Great reviews by the BN review panel, i like the “balanced” theme in your reports, makes me want to read the book especially as most times stories like this makes show social issues(polygamy in this case) and its influences in our generation, i will definitely recommend to my friends and our book club for our next quartely reviews http://tinaikepr.blogspot.com/2011/01/reviews.html
    Looking forward to the next reviews, first need to get to book so i can participate in the comments.

  19. jia

    February 23, 2011 at 10:33 pm

    Sounds interesting. I reasd kemis journal and zacks story 2/3yrs ago. Pretty good read, although I got a little bored with zacs story.

  20. Natural Nigerian

    February 24, 2011 at 8:22 am

    I think The Secret Baba Segi’s wives is a very good read. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

  21. honeybee

    February 24, 2011 at 11:52 am

    I read this book last sunday….finished it in hours! Its so funny and its a good read, very light hearted. I bought it from amazon.com!

  22. bobbydox

    February 24, 2011 at 1:22 pm

    the reinvention of art and reading is being revived in Nigeria through or films and thanks to BELLANAIJA BNBOOK REVIEW readers would have the lifetime opportunity to view books that are worth your while and you dont have to grind teeth and say why the hell did i buy this book or bla bla bla bla have fun

  23. Francesca

    February 27, 2011 at 7:51 pm

    I absolutely loved it, it was honest to the setting in which the story occurred. If there was every a book that was DESTINED to be a play, TSLOBSW is it!

  24. Tbn

    February 28, 2011 at 6:10 pm

    I loved reading this book which I didnt drop until I finished reading it, a few hours after I got it. There is a lot of humour in it too, especially on baba segi who is a character on his own! kudos to the author.

  25. Vivalastylishliving

    March 1, 2011 at 2:20 pm

    I read the book and found the plot interesting. However, the language was too crass for my taste in some parts of the book i.e. the use of the F word seemed a bit unnecessary. The end was a bit understated considering the amount of drama that took place in the family i.e. baba segi realises he is infertile and shrugged it off a bit too easuily for a Nigerian man who happens to find out through a round of infidelity amongst all his wives (the average Nigerian man would go off his rocker and more, Iya Segi seemed to have handled her very own act of murder (might I say, of her daughter) a lot more lightly than any reasonable woman would, Iya Femi should have had a limb torn off her for her antagonism which led to murder, and Bolanle ends up going back to her parents when she should really have become promoted to first wife status and power in the house for being the only sane, trusting wife.

    I am glad we have this section cos I get to find more interesting African insprired books to read but this one was only interesting at best, I would only give it 2stars.

  26. slklouis

    September 19, 2011 at 2:35 pm

    lovely book although the fact that i have to write an essay on it ruined my fun…..the book was really graphical especially the sex scenes

  27. yvonne muendo

    October 23, 2014 at 11:14 am

    can somebody download the book

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