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

The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives by Lola Shoneyin
Published by William Morrow, an imprint of Harper Collins

When Bolanle becomes Baba Segi’s fourth wife, she has no idea what she is in for. A college graduate who finds escape from her life in this polygamous Nigerian household, Bolanle’s education and beauty inspires jealousy and hatred in Baba Segi’s other wives, particularly Iya Segi and Iya Femi. When Baba Segi decides to take Bolanle to the hospital for tests to find out why she has been unable to conceive, however, she becomes a threat not only to Iya Segi and Iya Femi’s positions in the household, but possibly even to the very basis of their life together.

“The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s is told in a very interesting manner. The book opens with a chapter in third person and has at least one more chapter structured like this, but most of the book is told in first person. The thing is, it is not always the first person of Bolanle, the protagonist. Each of the wives – and even Baba Segi – gets to narrate at least one chapter. Surprisingly, Shoneyin did quite a good job of helping the reader figure out who was narrating each chapter very quickly. Bolanle’s chapters had actual chapter titles, but the other chapters were titled with the name of the person narrating. Of course, I rarely look at chatper titles, so I didn’t realize this until well over halfway through the book, but I was still able to figure out with minimal confusion who was narrating.

Although Shoneyin definitely had the skills to make it work, I found the use of multiple first person narrators to be an odd choice, and one that distracted a bit from my enjoyment of the book. The story is very engaging, but the execution probably took me from loving this book to simply liking it.

Note: Lola Shoneyin stopped by and explained her reasons for using multiple first person narrators, so scroll down and check out her comment, her reasoning makes a lot of sense.

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13 comments to The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives by Lola Shoneyin – Book Review

  • Interesting – I’ve been on the waiting list at the library for this one and it’s finally ready for me to pick up. I’m reading not listening so it’ll be interesting to see if how the multiple narrators works in that format.

    At least I know ahead of time to pay attention to the chapter titles!!

    One book I read with multiple narrators had a different font for each one. I wondered at the time how the audio format would work for that book.

  • Meg

    I’m pretty intrigued by this one, but usually books with multiple POVs turn me off. Not always, of course; The Help would be an example of it done incredibly well. But other times? Well, not so much.

  • I love getting different sides fo the story…if done right is alot of fun. But I can also see how it might flop. I give the lady credit for being a little different though.

    • I can’t decide whether it was creative, or lazy (easiest way to get everyone’s points of view and the stories that would have been harder to tell from just one first person narrator). I’m leaning towards creative, but not 100% there.

  • I wonder why the author decided to tell the story that way? The premise is so good so I’m really disappointed that the book isn’t better.

  • I appreciate the tip about the chapter headings — I have this one hold at the library and I might have gotten myself all knocked about if you hadn’t gone through it first for me! 😉

  • Amy

    I’m sorry to hear that you didn’t love this more. I’m looking forward to trying it at some point, but I know not to have my hopes too high now!

  • Dear Devourerofbooks,

    Thanks so much for your review. It’s a wonderful thing to know that one’s novel is being read and my friends and family are constantly drawing my attention to reviews. When the reviews raise important questions, as you have done here, I want to make the effort to respond to them.

    I would therefore like to offer a small explanation regarding my use of the multiple narrative voices, not to change your mind about how well it was executed but so that you understand the thinking behind it.

    Both my grandfathers were polygamists so this is topic I understand quite well. Here’s a link to an article I wrote about polygamy and how it destroys the women who have to suffer in silence, one of them being my grandmother:

    It has always struck me that women in polygamous homes do not have any sort of voice. Everything you know about them is filtered through the husband. This happens both in fiction and in reality. Even when the wives are depressed and downtrodden, they can’t talk about it because doing so could be offensive to the husband they are desperate to please. Being vocal about their experiences could also jeopardise their place in the home.

    In writing my novel, it was extremely important to me that my readers could hear, first hand, the stories and thoughts of the wives. I wanted their varied personalities to dominate the novel because polygamy is as much, if not more, about the women as it is about the one greedy husband.

    Thank you again.

  • I too wondered about the multiple narrators. Thanks for the info Lola as I didn’t realize polygamy was still so prevelant in Nigeria and now have a better insight into why you wrote it the way you did.

  • That’s very helpful to have the author explain why she wrote the book the way she did. I want to read the book eventually because now I am curious!

  • The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives has been on my reading list since it was published. I lucked upon it at the library this morning. I’m thinking it will be a quick and enjoyable read. Now I feel privileged to have the author’s reasoning to take into the read.