Monday, July 11, 2011
The Secret Lives of the Four Wives by Lola Shoneyin
From back of book:
Attempting to rise above the secrets of her past, Bolanle, a university graduate, marries Baba Segi, who promises her everything in exchange for agreeing to become his fourth wife. Thus she enters into a polygamous world filled with expensive clothes, a generous monthly allowance...and three Segi wives who disapprove of the newest, youngest, most educated addition to the family. There's Iya Femi, a fiery vixen with a taste for money; Iya Tope, a shy woman whose kindness is eclipsed by terror; and Iya Segi, the first, most lethal, and merciless of them all.
Bolanle quickly becomes Baba Segi's prized possession...until her very presence unlocks a secret that the other wives have long since guarded, and unleashing it could change life as they know it.
I liked this book. The writing was solid, the characters were engaging and the story itself was interesting to read. However, the secret that gets revealed at the end was rather obvious long before the end, so throughout the book you are left wondering why its taking so long for anyone to figure out this secret. As for all the sex, I suppose I expected it, because we are discussing a polygamist family and sex is definitely a huge part of it - days are divided amongst the wives and they are aware of which wife gets an extra day. Plus, Baba Segi expects his wives to bear his children, so when Bolanle enters the picture and she is unable to become pregnant, that definitely brings up many questions regarding sex and fertility issues. There is also a long established pecking order within the household amongst the wives that Bolanle must adhere to, or else she will be verbally or physically attacked. For example, as the newest wife who has yet to produce any children, Bolanle is not allowed to sit on an armchair in the living room, so when she is given one to sit on next to Baba Segi, the other wives make sure to put an end to that privilege ASAP! They also make sure that their children ignore Bolanle when she enters a room or speaks to them. These women are determined to find a way to have Bolanle thrown out of the house. They use a variety of tactics - lies, voodoo accusations, poison and pure hostility. Bolanle is hurt and confused by these women's behaviours toward her, when all she has done is be nice to them and their children, offer to help around the house, and teach them all to read. Baba Segi appears to ignore all of this drama, as he is only concerned with the fact that Bolanle has yet to become impregnated. Doctors are visited and tests are taken and the result is one that will leave a household forever changed.
Through Shoneyin's rich and engaging writing we are able to learn about all four wives and the ways in which their lives have all led them toward a polygamist family lifestyle. We also learn about Baba Segi and how he has created a career that allows for him to live so comfortably and provide for such a huge household. All of these stories are told in such vivid imagery and distinct voices, that you can't help but become immersed in what you are reading. Yes, I know that guessing the secret early on does take away the element of surprise from the story, but it doesn't really ruin anything else. You are still eager to find out how everything will be resolved and what will happen to Bolanle and the other wives.
Shoneyin has written a very good book that I would glady recommend to anyone to read. Its a book that allows you a peek into a lifestyle and country that you may not be familiar with. And its a book filled with characters that you will not forget. This is a book that will hold your attention and leave you wanting more.
Thank you to TLC Book Tours and the publisher for providing me with a copy of the book.