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

The BookDepository

  Longlisted for 2011 Orange Prize

Five words from the blurb: polygamous, family, wives, children, Nigerian

The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives is set in Nigeria and gives an insight into the problems faced by women within a polygamous marriage. In a series of interwoven narratives the book tells the story of the four women married to Baba Segi, a rich patriarch. We see the strict hierarchy that exists within the family and the wives’ struggle to conceive the children that their husband demands.

The book was very easy to read – the text flowed simply and quickly. There were many humourous sections and the book retained a light tone throughout, despite some darker moments.

I loved seeing the relationships within the family change with the addition of each new wife and it was really interesting to see things from the perspective of each woman.

Iya Segi has two children. The eldest Segi, is fifteen. She is a dutiful sister to her siblings but I think she is afraid that I have come to take her place. I see anger when I offer to help the other children with homework. She doesn’t speak to me but I often see her shadow by the door.

My only complaint is that there was very little description of their surroundings. By the end of the book I felt I knew the wives really well, but I couldn’t picture their house or village at all.

Overall this was a wonderfully entertaining novel that raised many important issues. Recommended.

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The thoughts of other bloggers:

….a startling but beautiful evocation of a Nigerian woman’s inner world. Lotus Reads

The author set out to expose the ugliness of polygamy. And she does achieve this but it comes at a cost to her characters. Kinna Reads

 I found myself laughing out loud at some of the episodes in the book. CardiganGirlVerity

My faith in the Orange Prize has returned. I wouldn’t have come across this book if it hadn’t been longlisted for the Orange Prize and I am very pleased that I read it. I hope my next Orange is just as rewarding.


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28 Comments

  1. Verity says:

    One that we both liked! I think I liked it BECAUSE there weren’t too many descriptions, such a contrast to The memory of love. It meant that the story moved along at quite a pace. Thanks for quoting me!

    1. Jackie says:

      Verity, I’m about 100 pages into Memory of Love and am really enjoying the descriptions, but am starting to crave a bit of plot. I hope it turns up soon. I prefer the middle ground – descriptions and plot! I hope I can find one that fits the bill soon.

  2. I’m surprised that you hasn’t heard of this pre-Orange as some American bloggers were raving about it a few months ago. I added it to my wish-list at the time and thank the Orange judges for the additional push to read it.

    1. Jackie says:

      Claire, I think we follow very different blogs. Looking through the blog search to write this review I did spot a few mentions of this book on blogs I follow, but they were all so-so reviews and so I tend to not take note of the title. I’m pleased that it is now getting the attention it deserves.

  3. Shannon says:

    I can’t wait to read this one. I had borrowed it from the library, but then fell ill and wasn’t able to read it before it had to be returned. So I’ve placed another hold on it.

    1. Jackie says:

      Shannon, I hope that it comes back into your library soon. Enjoy :-)

  4. TERESA says:

    This one does sound a lot more readable than some of the other titles, I have it on my to-be-reserved list at the library as my ticket can hold no more at the moment!

    1. Jackie says:

      Teresa, It is the most readable book I’ve read on the longlist by a long way. I’m sure you’ll love it.

  5. Wendy says:

    Glad to see you enjoyed this one, Jackie – I am looking forward to reading it too.

    1. Jackie says:

      Wendy, I look forward to comparing notes with you. :-)

  6. I’m so glad to see a novel redeemed this year’s Orange for you! I’m reading this one and really enjoying it. It is a quick read for me so far, and I’m quite impressed with how much personality the author gives each character.

    1. Jackie says:

      Carrie, Yes. All the characters lept from the page. I especially loved Bolanle, but the grumpiness of the older wives added that extra splash of humour to the book. I look forward to seeing what you think of it at the end.

  7. Steph says:

    While no specifics are coming to mind, I feel like I read a bunch of mixed reviews about this book, so it was nice to see that you enjoyed it so much. I agree that this is probably one that I wouldn’t really think about reading (it seems like so many books are about polygamy these days… or is that just me?), but it does sound like there is a lot of meat to it even if it is not perfect.

    1. Jackie says:

      Steph, I haven’t read many books on polygamy. In fact I can only think of The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff (which was only OK) Perhaps you’re drawn to them more than me ;-)

  8. Sandy says:

    It is hard not to be curious about how these women deal with this kind of thing (even though it is all they know). I cannot imagine. I suppose it would become all about each other, versus the man. He is the least of their issues.

    1. Jackie says:

      Sandy, It seems like a very complex set of relationships. The dominance of the man seems to cause most of the problems, but the jealousy of the wives is also a a big issue. All very interesting to read about, but almost impossible to imagine doing.

  9. FleurFisher says:

    I’m glad that this is readable. It’s on my library pile at the moment and I could do with a really readable read. The first page looked promising, but you never quite know.

    1. Jackie says:

      FleurFisher, Yes. It is a nice break from all the slow paced books on the Orange list. Enjoy :-)

  10. Brenna says:

    I’m happy to hear your faith in the Orange Prize has been restored and that you enjoyed this one. I picked out two from the longlist I wanted to read – this was one and the other was Jamrach’s Menagerie. I’ve yet to buy either but I plan on book shopping soon!

    1. Jackie says:

      Brenna, I’m interested in Jamrach’s Menagerie too! I am half way through Moby Dick and loving it, so any book that is compared to it draws my attention straight away. Let’s hope it is as good as it looks :-)

  11. Amused says:

    Good to know this one is worth reading! I think it might take me awhile to get a copy here but I will definitely plan on reading it!

    1. Jackie says:

      Amused, I hope that you enjoy it as much as I did!

  12. Amy says:

    Funny enough I read this just the other day on the plane! I also enjoyed it and have my review scheduled for next Friday. So glad to see that you liked it.

    1. Jackie says:

      Amy, You are organised – I rarely have posts scheduled for this week, let alone next week :-) I look forward to reading your thoughts on it.

  13. Tricia says:

    I’m looking forward to reading this one!

  14. S. Krishna says:

    Hmm…part of the reason I was attracted to the book was because of the setting. I’ll still be reading it, but it’s good to know there isn’t much description of the surroundings.

  15. Joanna says:

    Sounds great! I knew your blog was the right place to come to for Orange longlist reviews! :-)

  16. I’m glad that not all the fruit was discarded from your table! ::grin::

    I haven’t made it to the halfway point in my Orange reading for this year yet, but I do agree that, even so, this one stands out as a readable and enjoyable — but not entirely light either — story. (My thoughts are here.)

    For me it didn’t matter that there wasn’t that much description of the setting because it made it seem like a more universal story, emphasizing the emotions rather than the landscape. But I do tend to expect more description when it comes to stories set in Africa (as was the case with last year’s longlisted Black Mamba Boy, for instance), so I can see how that might have been a surprising absence.

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