The Secret Lives of the Four Wives (previously published as The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives) is a book written by Lola Shoneyin, set in modern-day Nigeria. The novel focuses on Bolanle, Baba Segi’s newest and most educated wife. She graduated from university. Bolanle doesn’t love Baba Segi, but she feels she has no other choice, so she marries him, joining his large family as wife number four. But the other three wives hate Bolanle. She is threatening to them. She can read and write and she doesn’t know the big secret that the other three wives have spent their entire married lives keeping.
I enjoyed the uniqueness of this book. It is not often (unfortunately) that I get to read about present-day Africa and how their society and culture works. Shoneyin lives in Nigeria and I found the details and customs in the book to be interesting and unexpected. I guess part of my European heritage is thinking that Africa is still in the dark ages. And in some ways it is, but it was refreshing to read a story about Nigeria that did not exploit its poverty or its lack of government leadership et cetera. It is the story of what Nigeria is like today. I had no idea how, for lack of a better word, modern it is, how normal it is. And that is a valuable lesson for many of us to learn here in the West.
The characters are all very complex and we get a vivid portrait of each wife, as each have their own narrating voice. Although the book attempted to make the plot realistic, sometimes I felt it fell short. There are extreme things done to Bolanle and terrible action is taken but there was no rationale. Some actions seemed a little far fetched- who tries to poison someone just because they can read?
The writing in the book was different from most books I read, echoing Chinua Achebe’s narrative voice in Things Fall Apart.
However, the “big secret” was entirely too obvious, the plot lacked realistic catalysts and the writing was too analogous with other African literature. Unfortunately, this book fell short in too many areas. It was an interesting read but it is not one that I wish to repeat.