The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives by Lola Shoneyin

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The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives by Lola Shoneyin

Category: General Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Robin Leggett
Reviewed by Robin Leggett
Summary: A lightly written tale of dark secrets amongst the wives of a Nigerian man's polygamous household. Secrets, scheming and general unsavoriness abound.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 256 Date: January 2011
Publisher: Serpent's Tail
ISBN: 978-1846687495

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The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives is one of those books that you read with a smile on your face. It's full of gloriously unsavoury characters caught in a terrible web of deceit. We are promised 'four women, one husband and a devastating secret' and it delivers on all three counts. Sure the secret is quite well signposted and Shoneyin doesn't really make much of an effort to divert the reader from putting two and two together, although it takes wife number four, Bolanle, an inordinate amount of time for the penny to drop, but it's not about discovering the deception - it's about the glorious journey of how things unfold.

At the heard of this Nigerian family is Baba Segi - an overweight, flatulent, chauvinist. He's thoroughly unlikeable and if at least two of his wives, the first, Iya Segi and the third Iya Femi, weren't so gloriously unlikeable and scheming, you would have no sympathy for Baba Segi at all.

The family dynamics are as follows; with his first wife, Baba Segi has two children. Their mother, Iya Segi wants nothing more than to continue to rule the household and will stop at nothing to throw her not inconsiderable weight around to show who's boss. The second wive, Iya Tope gave Baba Segi three children. She's timid and it's not hard for Iya Segi to get her 'trained' to toe the line. Wive number three, Iya Femi, who produced another two children for Baba Segi, is a different matter all together. With a taste for the finer things in life, and a strong belief that she has earned them, she's a force to be reckoned with, particularly when she teams up with Iya Segi to boss Iya Tope around. Yet, somehow it works. At least until wife number four, Bolanle, a university graduate, is introduced into the mix. Unbeknownst to her, she inadvertently threatens to bring the whole house of cards tumbling down on Baba Segi's head.

This is poet Shoneyin's debut novel and she pulls this farce off with great aplomb. The only minor irritation is that the chapters are told in different voices and it's not always clear who's telling the story - at least for a couple of pages of each chapter. But that aside, it's a thoroughly entertaining, if undemanding read. Shoneyin clearly has more sympathy for the wives, even the nasty ones, and with each we get some of their back story that has led them to take the decisions that they have taken. That's less true of Baba Segi who is simply not a nice person, yet even here, you sense that there is a some compassion for his plight amongst these fearsome women. Perhaps her real compassion though is for the children who are innocent of all the machinations of the adults.

There's a lightness about the whole book but that doesn't mean that it doesn't manage to tug at the emotions, nor does it shy away from violence. All behind it all, Baba Segi, a man of traditional values and beliefs, is facing up to his wives whose outlook tends to be more modern.

It's a hugely entertaining read and who doesn't need a bit of Nigerian warmth in their lives in the depths of winter?

Out thanks to the good people at Serpent's Tail for inviting the Bookbag into Baba Segi's polygamous world.

If you enjoyed this, I feel sure that you'd enjoy any of the books in the series that started with The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith while for more on threats to traditional family structures The Last Patriarch by Najat El-Hachmi offers an interesting insight.

Buy The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives by Lola Shoneyin at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives by Lola Shoneyin at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives by Lola Shoneyin at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives by Lola Shoneyin at Amazon.com.


Booklists.jpg The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives by Lola Shoneyin is in the Orange Prize 2011.

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