Lola Shoneyin - The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives (3 stars)

Lola Shoneyin - The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives

(Serpent’s Tail)

In her debut novel, Lola Shoneyin presents us with an engrossing portrayal of a polygamous household, in which four wives fiercely compete for their husband’s affections and go to great lengths to bear his children. The emotional damage that this ultimately wreaks isn’t purely imagined: Shoneyin’s own grandfather had five brides and her childhood was filled with stories of the sadness this caused her grandmother, his first wife.

Shoneyin – an acclaimed poet and now a teacher in Nigeria – grants each of her principal characters their own narration in alternating chapters. However, the cacophony of voices she presents don’t quite convince, and the story itself straddles an uncomfortable line between farce and tragedy. Nevertheless, the drama is buoyed by her keen imagination as she gradually builds up a rich portrait of a family on the verge of collapse and an uncompromising image of the grief that polygamy can cause.

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