The backstory: The Secrets Lives of Baba Segi's Wives is one of the nine debut novels on the 2011 Orange Prize longlist.
The basics: As the title implies, The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives is indeed about the four wives of Baba Segi, a wealthy Nigerian businessman. His fourth wife, Belonle, has a college education, which is a concern for the other three wives.
My thoughts: Although the reader is treated to the inner mind of all four wives, the main character is the fourth wife, Bolanle, who narrates about half of the chapters. I identified most with Bolanle too, who felt like an outsider because of her education and displays an astounding amount of tolerance and patience for how she is treated.
This novel is filled with both a yearning for softness and a gritty, raw hardness of reality. At times it is quite graphic about sex and violence, but it never felt sensationalist; it was authentic. I was fascinated by the characters and the events in the novel, but I never marveled at the construction of a sentence. It's certainly well written, but I would stop short of calling the writing literary. The magic is in the story and characters rather than the construction and language.
Still, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and was engaged as I read it. I have a fascination with polygamy (well, not enough to watch Sister Wives, but enough to adore Big Love.) As a fan of Big Love, there were times when I was amazed at parallel storylines.
Fun literary fact: Shoneyin is married to the son of Wole Soyinka.
Favorite passage: "Only a foolish woman relies heavily on a man's promises."
The verdict: The Secret Lives of Babi Segi's Wives is a fascinating glimpse into modern polygamy in Nigeria. It's a fast-paced novel with remarkably fleshed out characters. Despite enjoying the story and characters, I would stop short of calling it prize-worthy. I will be eager to see what Lola Shoneyin does next.
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
Length: 256 pages
Publication date: July 1, 2010 (it's in paperback now)
Source: I bought it for my Kindle
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