“The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives” by Lola Shoneyin is a sadly beautiful tale that exposes the complexities of a polygamous household. When Bolanle, a young university graduate, decides to settle, she settles, not with the conventional husband as her parents and loved ones would have wished, but with the patriarch of the Alao family, Baba Segi, husband of three wives and father of seven children.

One of the aspects I loved the most is the real and well-developed characters, each possessing their distinct voice and perspective, who undergo significant changes throughout the story.

First is Iya Segi, the formidable matriarch of the Alao household, whose strength and cunning are matched only by her deep-seated vulnerabilities. As the story unfolds, we witness her journey from a position of power to one of shame, regret and ultimately, humility.

Iya Tope, initially perceived as insignificant by others, emerges as a surprising force within the household, ultimately becoming the most favoured wife of Baba Segi. Her transformation is a testament to Shoneyin’s skill in crafting rounded characters with enough depth.

Iya Femi, with her headstrong demeanour, and preference for religious extremity over common sense, represents, to some degree, a typical Nigerian woman with an excessive sense of self, condescension and perceived competition. She adds a layer of tension and resilience to the narrative. 

And then there’s Bolanle, the enigmatic newcomer whose presence catalyses change within the Alao household. Being the standout character, the educated one amidst illiterate wives and even husband, she is not much liked by the other wives, except for Iya Tope, and her presence threatens to uncover all the secrets the women have safely kept hidden over the years.

While Bolanle may not undergo as many overt changes herself, at the heart of the narrative, her character is important to those around her. Shoneyin, in letting the reader in on their motivations, tells the story from the POVs of the main characters, and a minor character at some point; Taju, Baba Segi’s driver. This style makes the story even more interesting and digs into areas a single first-person narrator, or even an omniscient narrator, wouldn’t have been able to reach.

What sets Lola Shoneyin’s storytelling apart is the simplicity of her language, and the themes she explores; love, betrayal, infertility, societal expectations, and above all, the resilience of the human spirit.

“The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives” is sure to leave a lasting impression on readers long after the final page is turned. I recommend it for all lovers of family saga. A 5/5 for sure.


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