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The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives (edition 2010)

by Titilola Alexandrah Shoneyin

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3114535,843 (3.44)89
Member:acqua
Title:The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives
Authors:Titilola Alexandrah Shoneyin
Info:Profile (2010), Paperback, 256 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****
Tags:"read 2012", relationship, sex, sexuality, marriage, africa, nigeria, infertility, contemporary, poligamy

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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; (2 1/2*)

Baba Segi is obsessed with the inability of his fourth wife (just his newest acquisition; he still has the other three) to conceive. For two years he had been 'pounding' her & still she has not become pregnant. By his other wives he has three sons and four daughters.
Each wife seems to know her place within the hierarchy of the household and as long as they stick to that, things seem to run rather smoothly. But this fourth wife brought in is instantly but innocently a thorn in their sides. None of the three accept her and she is treated quite abominably. The children follow their mother's leads and are also fractious with her.
This then, is the basis for Lola Shoneyin's novel. She seems to not take enough time for the events of the story; in the mind of this reader. There is a lot of talk regarding Baba Segi's body functions which after the first couple of times could have been lightened I thought. Baba Segi rotates the nights spent with each wife with the extra night belonging to his first wife.
And as it says in the title this is indeed a story of his wives. Who does the cooking, the cleaning, the mending, etc. There seems to be no place for the newest wife.
For me Baba Segi got what he deserved in the end when he finds the truth of events within his little family. And I guess that I didn't understand the culture within the story. It was difficult for me to wrap my head around most of the characters, adults & children alike. Though there a few laugh-out-loud occurrences in the story, all in all the effort I spent reading it didn't feel worth it at the end of the day. ( )
2 vote rainpebble | Jun 15, 2014 |
Baba Segi is a moderately successful businessman, fat, self-satisfied and not very prepossessing - but he thinks he's wonderful. He already has three wives (and several children) when his eye falls on Bolanle. Unlike his other wives, she is both educated and beautiful and could surely do better than be fourth wife to this 'buffoon', as her mother calls him, yet she agrees to join the household. The existing wives resent her arrival and plot against her - and they are right to be afraid, for Bolanle's arrival will trigger the disintegration of family life as they know it, although the fault will lie entirely with the other wives.

I found this book enjoyable to read, in particular because it felt like lifting the roof off a dolls' house and peering in for a while, scrutinising the inhabitants and their behaviour, before replacing the roof and tiptoeing off, leaving them to it. Nothing is quite what it seems, as we learn from the sections narrated by different characters - all the wives, Baba Segi himself, and his driver - and it turns out that all the wives had very particular reasons for marrying Baba Segi. This is not the life any of them would have chosen.

What I liked less was the characterisation. Baba Segi, especially, I found to be a caricature; as I said, Bolanle's mother calls him a 'buffoon', but does he really have to be such an unadulterated one? He's a stupid, fat, middle-aged man who thinks he's got it made with his business, his big house, his four (FOUR!) wives (including a beautiful graduate!) and his scores of children, and he leaps from bed to bed, from wife to wife, proud of his sexual appetite...it's just too much. (Even so, when the truth dawns, I couldn't help feeling sorry for him, but I'd have felt much sorrier for a more rounded, credible character). Equally, two of the wives I found to be similarly two-dimensional - evil schemers with no redeeming features, although their back stories do make their behaviour more understandable. ( )
  rachbxl | Feb 10, 2014 |
"It's set at a rollicking pace that carries you along with the vaguely soap opera-like plot."
read more: http://likeiamfeasting.blogspot.co.uk/2013/04/the-secret-lives-of-baba-segis-wiv.... ( )
  mongoosenamedt | Apr 18, 2013 |
Opening Sentence: “…When Baba Segi awoke with a bellyache for the sixth day in a row, he knew it was time to do something about his fourth wife’s childlessness…”

Baba Segi has four wives, Iya Segi the bride of Baba Segi's youth, a fat, powerful and vindictive woman who will stop at nothing to protect her favoured position as ruler of her husband's home. Iya Tope, Baba Segi's second wife, a decent, shy, timid woman, is totally non-confrontational which makes her unwilling to stand up for injustices in the household. Iya Femi, the third wife, born a Muslim then became a Christian convert she is full of the vengeance that she believes God demands. She is spends all her days plotting revenge on people she believes have slighted her. Then there is the newest wife, Bolanle, young, educated and of all the wives, Bolanle was the only one that Baba Segi deliberately chose to marry. The other wives were either gifted to him or they gifted themselves.

Horrified that their husband has brought another wife home, the first and third wives, Iya Segi and Iya Femi, start to plot Bolanle's downfall, trouble is they don’t realise that their own secret is in danger of being exposed. Things start to unravel for the scheming wives when after a couple of years of marriage Bolanle does not get pregnant. Fathering his seven children has been a great source of pride for Baba Segi and Bolanle's apparent barrenness is severely damaging his envied reputation as a fruitful father.

Glimpses of Nigerian culture are woven into the story in such a way as to not completely overwhelm the reader with the difference between Nigerian lives and that of ‘western’ culture. For Instance I noticed that the three wives all had what appeared to be the same first name - Iya Segi, Iya Tope, and Iya Femi, while the last wife was just Bolanle. I emailed a Nigerian friend of mine and asked if there was a reason; there is. It is a customary practice in some parts of Nigeria for married women to be known as 'Iya' followed by the name of their first child. 'Iya' in this context means 'mother of' so Iya Segi is mother of Segi. I love learning new things about other cultures.

The story is told mainly from Bolanle’s point of view, however, most of the other characters get a chance to have their say. As the novel unfolds, the background of each wife prior to her marriage to Baba Segi is revealed, and how she came to be his wife, providing insight into her individual fears and motivations. Baba Segi, his driver and one of the daughters also told part of the story – so there was a wide range of narrators. Despite the plethora of voices, the novel maintained a smooth flow and a clear narrative. All the back stories that are added by the various points of view to the overall plot of THE SECRET LIVES OF BABA SEGI'S WIVES are engrossing, and even though the ‘secret’ became apparent very early on in the book, the resolution came as a surprise, maybe even a little bit of a let down – But I am not sure how I expected it to end – so I guess the resolution was as good as any after all.

Author, Lola Shoneyin, very realistically demonstrates how the power dynamics involved in polygamist marriages could work; the inequality between joint wives and the constant competition between them as they jostle for prime position. Then there is the thoughtlessness of the man who decides that it is okay to take a second (or third, or fourth) wife and just introduce her to the existing women without thought of how she is going to be received.

Outwardly THE SECRET LIVES OF BABA SEGI'S WIVES was a quick breezy read. However, there were hidden depths to be constantly discovered and I thoroughly enjoyed the story, hated that it finished, and continued to muse over it long after the last page was finished.

( )
  sally906 | Apr 3, 2013 |
My blog post about this book is at this link. ( )
  SuziQoregon | Mar 31, 2013 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Lola Shoneyinprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Tarasconi, IlariaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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for Tinuoye and Yetunde Sheoneyin
....and for Olaokun
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When Baba Segu 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.
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Book description
Baba Segi, a polygamous husband in modern-day Nigeria, believes his three wives and numerous children are a sign of his prosperity, success, and manhood, but his peaceful domain unravels when he brings home Bolanle, a quiet, college-educated woman as his fourth wife.
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Baba Segi's fourth wife, the young, college-educated Bolanle, sends his household into turmoil, causing his other three wives to become jealous and resentful and to plot her downfall.

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