I can’t remember the last time I felt as frustrated reading a book as I did reading The secret lives of Baba Segi’s wives. This is in no way a reflection of the book, which I thought was wonderfully written full of humour and empathy for all the characters. What I found frustrating was the lack of agency that the wives had and the way in which their lives were wholly defined by the expectations laid on them as a result of the patriarchal nature of their society.
The three older wives have been living with a secret which their husband Baba Segi is oblivious to as egotistical men are wont to do. It’s only when Baba Segi brings a fourth wife (Bolanle) that the web of lies begins to unravel. The wives all struggle to root themselves hierarchically with Baba Segi, by ganging up against Bolanle whom they believe is out to get them because she is younger and educated. The wives are determined to undermine her at every turn and chase her away so that they can restore their home back to the status quo. Everything comes to a head towards the end of the book when the family secret is revealed and Baba Segi’s seemingly tranquil world is turned upside down.
Lola peppers her words with colourful language and euphemisms that inject lightness and humour to the story. She treats each of the wives as whole characters, describing their motivations and world view with kindness and without judgement. The book is easy to read and a non-serious exploration of the daily lives of a polygamous Nigerian family daily straddling the border between archaic ways and modern enlightenment.