Saturday, November 20, 2010

Secret lives ~ and fun reading

Cover in USA
The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives ~ by by Lola Shoneyin, 2010

By page two I knew I was in for some fun reading:
Baba Segi stepped aside to make room for the schoolchildren on their daily pilgrimage.  These children went to great pains to bid Teacher good morning, just to see him steam up the louvers with his response.  "God mourning," the smoky-eyed sage hummed.
Good morning? or God mourning?  I love it!  The words sound almost the same, but they definitely mean very different things.  In a way, I see that as a metaphor for the book.  Things aren't always what they seem in this story.  Here's the synopsis I found online:
When Baba Segi awoke with a bellyache for the sixth day in a row, he knew it was time to do something drastic about his fourth wife's childlessness.
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—Baba 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.
Cover in UK
The book is primarily about Baba Segi's fourth wife's failure to get pregnant.  She may be educated, but she is lacking as a woman.  She is, after all, nothing unless she bears children.  Notice Iya before the other wives' names:  Iya Segi's first child was Segi, Iya Tope's first child was Tope, and Iya Femi's first child was Femi.  Get the picture?  Bolanle is simply Bolanle, the name she came with, mother of none.  What should be done about her childlessness?  Therein lies the tale, and quite a tale it is, too, as we learn a lot about Baba Segi, all of his wives, and Taju, the family's driver.  Taju looks at Baba Segi's rich life and compares it to his own:
"The rich have fat bellies.  They swagger until the world swings to one side.  They see more food and they lunge at it.  They have a permanent hunger, you see.  For the poor, it's different.  They've never known the taste of fullness, so they scramble for leftovers, not because they are hungry but because they want to know fullness, the contentment that makes the rich think the world is theirs. ... I am not paid to be a thinker.  I am a driver."
At the very end of the book (p. 280), one of these six characters says:
"I am back now and the world is spread before me like an egg cracked open."
What happened?  I'll never tell, but I recommend you read the book to find out.  Rated:  8 of 10, a very good book.

Book covers:  We in the United States get the green cover, but those of you in the United Kingdom get the more colorful one.  I don't know if the book has been published in Nigeria, the setting for the story.  Which of these two covers do you like better?


Eva said...

I'm glad you enjoyed this one more than me! I could never quite connect with the characters, but I did love all of the word-pictures Shoneyin creates. I wasn't surprised to see online that she's a poet. :)

Lola Shoneyin said...

Thank you for this review, Bonnie. I'm glad that you enjoyed the novel.

@Eva: Thank you for your comment. I have written three books of poems. You can read some of my poems here:

Bonnie Jacobs said...

Here's Eva's review of this book:

I also found an interview with Lola Shoneyin (which has a link to the edited version online ~ "Putting Polygamy in Perspective"):