"Bolanle, how old were you when you started menstruating?"
"I was thirteen."
"And how long do you normally menstruate for? How many days each month, I mean?"
"Four to five days."
Baba Segi couldn't hold back. "Do you not know that you are talking to another man's wife? All these questions you are asking are meaningless. She is bar-ren..."
Baba Segi has four wives - Iya Segi, Iya Tope, Iya Femi, and Bolanle. He also has seven kids through his first three wives. Baba Segi and his wives, barring Bolanle, are uneducated. Although Baba Segi was initially enamored by the fact of Bolanle's education, he was soon becoming troubled by her because she hasn't borne him a child since they were married. The other three wives don't try to get too close to Bolanle either. Iya Segi and Iya Femi openly dislike her, while Iya Tope doesn't want to cross the two wives by siding with Bolanle. Baba Segi tried to get Bolanle to agree to many quack remedies, but to no avail. When finally Baba Segi suggests that Bolanle visit a doctor, the latter agrees. Except, this is a decision that drastically affects everyone in the household.
I had been looking forward to reading this book since it released last year. First, it's the intriguing title and then the cover. And finally the setting - Nigeria is a country that I hadn't bookisited (I had total fun inventing that word), until I read this one! And while I'm not sure how close to the real country's culture it is, the book was entertaining in its own way.
The characters of this book start out as shallow, one-dimensional, and stereotypical. But it wasn't long before their hidden secret lives are revealed. It was an interesting transformation because I had no affection for Baba Segi at the beginning, but over time, he began growing on me, in spite of his male ego and supreme egoistic confidence in his infallibility. There were times when I appreciated that he was in a bigger soup than earlier imagined and that his problems were only just beginning.
Lola Shoneyin's The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives opens a window into the very secret (indeed!) lives of the wives. Each wife harbors at least one secret. None of their lives turned out to be as they wished. That background is what makes the characters of these women very multifaceted. By the time, their back-stories are revealed, none of the women appear similar to how I envisioned them. Although they all appear to be very dependent on the man of the house for their livelihood, it's interesting how the opposite is revealed to be the unintended status quo.
Bolanle is clearly the most rational person in the group. Her college education mostly contributes to that, but that doesn't make her any less fallible. She is mostly confused by the other wives' treatment but it isn't love that made her marry into that household. In addition, for a while she nurtured a lofty dream of educating the members of the house and changing their lives. Because she is childless, she is denied several comforts within their home, such as not having her own armchair. In addition, the other wives make up rules on the spot and get Baba Segi to side with them. They just want to kick Bolanle out of their home, but when their attempts aren't enough, they adopt riskier, more dangerous approaches. These approaches don't always have intended consequences. Far from being hilarious, they turn out to be disastrous.
There is a lot about the plot that I'm deliberately leaving out. This is genuinely a story that has to be enjoyed without knowing anything about it, since the lives of the wives are indeed secret and sometimes outrageous. Some parts of it are hilarious and while this is a very light entertaining read, the well-fleshed out characters have real-world issues stemming from ignorance, illiteracy and blind acceptance of customs. Lola's writing is very easy to read although her use of some metaphors had me very confused. But ultimately, this book was a very wonderful way to say how looks can be very deceptive and nothing like the person underneath.