Saturday, July 24, 2010
Review: The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives
Set in Nigeria, this novel examines the jealousies and complexities of a polygamous family. The household of Baba Segi Alao, patriarch, three wives, many children, and a new arrival, a fourth wife, Bolanle. Bolanle is different, it seems to the other wives: young, well-educated, attractive, her presence threatens to overturn the uneasy balance that has reigned in the Alao household. Bolanle is also childless, and much of the novel deals with her difficulties conceiving. Her efforts to overcome infertility threaten to expose some of the family's darkest secrets. Told by a broad cast of characters, the reader soon learns that secrets are the norm in this household, and each member harbors them. Polygamy was not the first choice for any of the wives, but all harbor secrets in their past that threaten their marriageability. The intimate look at how polygamy works was extremely interesting. The wives have all traded past problems for a new kind of hierarchy. The character most interesting to me at the book's conclusion was the least interesting at the outset: Baba Segi. He begins the book as something of a caricature, a man on the make looking to experience and broadcast all trappings of success, including multiple wives. By the end he has experienced significant domestic issues and emotions.