The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives; a fiction debut by Nigerian author and poet Lola Shoneyin first published 2010. The book explores family dynamics and polygamy in ‘modern’ day Nigeria and through viewpoints of the characters in the book we are able to learn the backstories of the household of a man with four wives and the secrets they keep…. and how everything comes together or perhaps unravels.
The Secret Lives Of Baba Segi’s Wives
You might think you know what to expect but there is some of the usual and then a bit of spin to it as you piece together the story like jigsaw. Some of the characters might grate at your sensibilities but Lola lets you get into their heads to see why they are the way they are and even the villainous are victims too…
Baba Segi who is loud and obnoxious, surprisingly perceptive yet ignorant, Iya Segi the first wife, queen of them all, Iya Tope loner, submissive and maternal, Iya Femi vengeful and calculating, Bolanle educated yet shackled and all bound by the secrets they keep with and from each other…
“The choices we have to make in this world are hard are bitter. Sometimes we have no choices at all”
The book exposes the dirty linen on some foundations for marriage and societal expectations that put pressure on relations. The Secret Lives Of Baba Segi’s Wives shows the double-edged sword that is patriarchy for how it shreds those who wield it and the fragility of masculinity. While the book has a bit of a light-hearted feel, it tackles some deep themes on abuse, mental health, motherhood and fatherhood.
“Men are nothing. They are fools. The penis between their legs is all they are useful for. And even then, if not that women needed their seed for children, it would be better to sit on a finger of green plantain. Listen to my words. Only a foolish woman leans heavily on a man’s promises”
The male characters are all….. wanting, from one known as The Teacher who dispenses “advice” to even random carpenters mentioned in a few lines and of course Baba Segi who thinks he has everything figured out and yet he doesn’t…
“…It is not everyday that a man discovers his life is a mere shadow and that there is a gulf between what he believes and reality…”
Truth is never pretty and this book has a lot of truth on family dynamics like how children can inherit grudges over issues they have no understanding but just like sponges absorbing from their surroundings.
“My daughters were born with eyes in their stomachs so they are quick to digest all that they see.”
There is hope for Akin, Baba Segi’s son from the first wife whom he tells the following sage advice:
“When the time comes for you to marry, take one wife and one wife alone. And when she causes you pain, as all women do, remember it is better that your pain comes from one source alone. Listen to your wife’s words, listen to the words she doesn’t speak so that you will be prepared..”
It was a hilarious read and Lola Shoneyin’s characters are colourful with traits that make them lovable, relateable and at times down right loathsome and yet you are surprised to find yourself even rooting for them a tiny bit….
The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives is an eye-opening, entertaining and thrilling rollercoaster of a ride and getting to the end is like saying goodbye to an old friends..
Harare Book Club had the opportunity to have A Meet The Author Session with Lola Shoneyin author of The Secret Lives Of Baba Segi’s Wives and she started with a very dramatic reading of Chapter 2 which sets the contextualization of why Bolanle would seek out a polygamist…
“Why would a university educated young woman like Bolanle choose to marry a polygamist like Baba Segi?!” This is the question that Lola Shoneyin is asked the most. Lola also mentioned how generational differences play a part in how people perceive or judge the characters and their actions.
Lola says she writes what she likes, gritty stuff, blood, sex, guts and DRAMA and this book has no shortage in domestic drama as she flags issues and shares them in a way that resonate with her.
Lola Shoneyin is outspoken, frank and hilarious, my question for her had been which of Baba’s Segi’s wives did she identify with the most, her candid response had been “The Bitch!” and if you have read the book you will know which feisty character she was referring to… She also says there is a part of her in all of the characters and fiction writing can be a form of exorcism and catharsis for our troubling life experiences.,