Author: Lola Shoneyin
The story was set in Ibadan between 1997 and 1999. From the title it was easy to guess what the story was going to be. Infact I had already figured out the entire storyline before I started reading but then I wanted to read it all the same, I needed to and I was glad I did. I learnt so many new words, coinages and usages. I also noticed the style of writing, quite fluid but one had to be attentive to follow and not only attentive but must be open to spontaneous changes in tone and focus.
The author, in some of the chapters used the 3rd person voice, the omniscient view and that is when you can have an aerial view of everything that is going on in the book. The author also liquidly marinated some chapters with the point of view of the characters in this way inviting us into the head of the character and the personality of that character. It was through this means that we were able to pick who behaved in a particular way and why.
In the story you would find that, other than the second wife each of these women was broken, hurt by people who should have taken care of them. The book treated issues like Rape, family values, slavery/servitude and child abuse, delivery and child birth including issues of infertility and who determines the sex of a child, then there was Karma and vengeance, not to forget religion.
The story started with a man, Ishola who was more or less called baba Segi because his first child was called Segi, named by his mother. Baba Segi’s worries and fears always culminated in issues with his stomach. We are made to understand that whenever he received a bad news he went straight to the toilet, either to defecate or vomit and once that was done, calm returned to him.
Baba Segi had four wives, he loved women and Teacher, the man at the brother had advised him to marry more wives rather than sleep around and which was exactly why he had all those women. His first wife was Iya Segi, the second, Iya Tope, the third Iya Femi while the fourth and newest wife was Bolanle. Bolanle had no child and this was what had been worrying Baba Segi, even though he supposedly had seven children already from the previous wives. He abused and marauded Bolanle for being unable to bare a child.
He then went to the brothel to seek the advice of Teacher who then told him to visit the doctor with Bolanle since she wouldn’t go with him to the traditional medicine men.
Bolanle, was the educated one, she had gotten a university education before marrying Ishola Alao, also known as Baba Segi. She had only married him because she had lost faith in herself after being raped at 15 and aborting the child of that rape. So she had only gotten married to him out of low self esteem. When she got to his house, she tried to teach the other wives and children but the wives felt that she was arrogant and instead declared war against her.
Iya Segi, the first wife is the fire brand and money lover in the house. The woman had a massive frame and towered over the remaining wives. She is that character we love to hate.
Her story is astounding, from the beginning we have always known she loves to count money and from her recounting of her past we came to understand how it started. It all started from her father leaving her mother for a prettier woman and how food and business became her mother’s therapy. This soon became her life and she loved money so much that marriage had not been on her mind.
She started to sleep, burying herself in it and with the money strewn across the room. Her mother noticed her love for money and gathered the money together and handed it over to her friend’s son who then married her. so she married Baba Segi because all she could see in him was her money which her mother had taken out of her room and given to him.
Iya Tope, the quiet, lazy, cowardly but not so bruised wife without too much backstory is the second wife. She is the one who had the daughter for Baba Segi. All we know about her is that she grew in a small village and knew just how to avoid work. She also has a good heart so when the other wives are plotting evil against Bolanle she was either the voice of reasoning or the one who they felt would give them away.
Iya Femi, the sexy and beautiful third wife. She had been the favourite before Bolanle arrived on scene, and the fact that Bolanle took Baba Segi’s attention from her was too much pain for her to bear. Her own backstory had been that her parents died in an accident and her uncle sold her off to a rich family where she had been treated badly. Eventually she ran away to marry Baba Segi just to escape and then went back to burn her father’s house and property just to deprive her uncle and his family the joy they deprived her years back. Her children are spoilt and she would not allow them suffer what she had suffered.
She switched to religion whenever it was convenient and also found a scripture to use to back up her evil deeds. A Jehovah witness.
Baba Segi, Ishola Alao’s the husband is sterile and does not know that each of his wife had found a way to solve their childlessness since he would go on and on about it. It started with Iya Segi who did it with his driver, Taju. Then when Iya Tope came she sold the idea to her because the woman was childless and Baba Segi had started to worry about it. Iya Femi on the other hand had been sleeping with the son of her masters before being married to him so she got her children from there to spite her former boss.
Babe Segi is a weird man. All his wives endure their love making, according to all of them he rammed with every thrust and had very big manhood but empty testicles. He was rich quite alright and had his wives serve him like he was god. He threw up and used the toilet when he was upset. I wouldn’t call him too much of a wise man because too many things went wrong under his roof and he did not notice the whiff.
I already suspected that Baba segi was sterile from the moment I read in chapter Nine from Iya Tope’s story that she also didn’t get pregnant on time and Iya Segi was already hinting some things to Iya Tope. I suspected that even Iya Segi’s children didn’t come from Baba Segi and she had been, as Jada Smith put it, in an entanglement with the meat seller. Iya Tope was only played to get to that point too.
I literarily screamed “I knew it and clapped my hands when Iya Segi said, “I will not let you destroy this home with your excesses. You have allowed the concubine to become the husband. I have not known anyone to worship the penis the way you do!”
So this is Ibadan- the big city where all our secondhand clothes enjoyed their first outings, the place where cars honked, engines roared and bus conductors screamed. I covered my ears. Everything was so urgent, most unlike the leisurely pace at which things bumbled along in the village.
This sounded exactly like Lagos and I was wondering if the author had somehow infused the Lagos hustle and bustle into Ibadan but then what do I know about Ibadan? I only lived there as a child so I could not remember what it was like.
“My daughters were born with eyes in their stomachs so they are quick to digest all they see. They cling to each other for comfort and move together like a single wave. When one cries, the others cry too, and when one laughs, the others smile before asking what is amusing. Sometimes I feel like I am one of them. We look after one another and I have taught them all I know.
This portion drew me a bit towards the plight of Iya Tope and many times I wished I could borrow her some courage. Although I am yet to understand why Baba Segi chose to lessen her punishment when he found out that the children were not his and why he continued to spend more time with her. He didn’t actually know she was the better one of the rest, except of course Bolanle and she was the one with the highest number of children.
Why do men think that the lives of their women revolves around them? Baba segi felt that the reason why his wife Iya Segi wanted Bolanle out of the house was because she sensed his displeasure with Bolanle’s barrenness. He didn’t consider the possibility that envy and jealousy could have been the convincing factor.
Also the poison that had been meant to kill Bolanle ended up in Segi’s stomach and that part was not resolved.
I also didn’t feel a thing when Segi died, I don’t know if I had be disconnected by regular life or there was a disconnect in the story though. Perhaps that came from the fact that the way she died seemed unnatural. And one may quickly tend towards poetic justice because it had been her mother who set the poison against Bolanle. Segi was a sweet girl nonetheless and didn’t deserve the death she got but then her death was a reminder of the proverb ‘if you live in a glass house, don’t throw stones.’
Finally, I have a strong issue with the way Iya Segi confessed about the child birth issue. First, for the kind of character she had been portrayed with, confessing that easily deflated the flow.
I literarily opened my mouth and asked ‘like seriously? That easily?’ I mean she was the no-nonsense, ready to kill to keep the secret yet before the doctors asked her one question, she had gone on her kneels and confessed.
I was actually expecting that she would confess about the poisoning considering that her child had just been discharged not the fornication. Since she was not privy to the information and tests that had been going on, on Bolanle and Baba Segi. She had only been invited and Baba Segi hadn’t told her why she was going to the hospital. I felt that part was rushed so that the story could end easily.
She didn’t seem like a faint at heart from the beginning of the story so imagine my surprise when she begins to confess easily to everything. SMH.
The flow of the story is easy and not confusing. It is easy for a reader to know who is who and why the character was behaving in a certain way. Each character had a fully developed backstory which was one way or the other linked to whatever it is they are doing now. The only flaw I noticed was the change in Iya Segi towards the end.
I agree that she could have begged her husband not to send her away but her keeping silent when Segi asked to stay in Bolanle’s room was unlike her and her confession to Segi that she had been the one who poisoned Bolanle’s food was also out of place. Or the confession about her infidelity, no. For someone who wanted to kill Bolanle just to keep the secret safe? Or someone who did not understand the white man’s medicine? There had been no reason why she would have confessed that easily.
In all, it was generally a good story.
Where to buy?
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