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The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives [Paperback]

Lola Shoneyin
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (73 customer reviews)
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Book Description

6 Jan 2011

To the dismay of her ambitious mother, Bolanle marries into a polygamous family, where she is the fourth wife of a rich, rotund patriarch, Baba Segi. She is a graduate and therefore a great prize, but even graduates must produce children and her husband's persistent bellyache is a sign that things are not as they should be. Bolanle is too educated for the 'white garment conmen' Baba Segi would usually go to for fertility advice, so he takes her to hospital to discover the cause of her barrenness.

Weaving the voices of Baba Segi and his four competing wives into a portrait of a clamorous household of twelve, Lola Shoneyin evokes an extraordinary Nigerian family in splashes of vibrant colour.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Serpent's Tail (6 Jan 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1846687497
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846687495
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (73 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 47,699 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Lola Shoneyin's work includes three books of poems: So All the Time I Was Sitting on an Egg (1997), Song of a Riverbird (2002) For the Love of Flight (2010) and two children's books: Mayowa and the Masquerades (2010) and Iyaji, the Housegirl (2014)

The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives was longlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2011 and went on to win the PEN Oakland 2011 Josephine Miles Literary Award and the 2011 ANA/Ken Saro-Wiwa Prose Prize. Her children's book, Mayowa and the Masquerades won the 2011 Atiku Abubakar Prize for Children's literature.

Shoneyin is the director of Ake Arts & Book Festival which takes place every November in Abeokuta, Nigeria. She lives in Nigeria.

Product Description


A Rabelaisian picture of polygamous marriage,comically capturing the physical realities of ordinary Nigerian life. (Giles Foden 2010-04-01)

A funny and moving story told with love and compassion ... a jewel of a novel (Petina Gappah)

Riotous... this debut novel is a real eye-opener: a deft, compelling and unsettling tale. (Ailin Quinlan Irish Examiner 2010-05-10)

This deft, lightly spun story packs quite a punch. Shoneyin's unravelling of a family is rooted in and flavoured by Nigeria, but speaks more widely. It is a book you'll want to eat in a sitting - and then start again (Diran Adebayo)

This first novel is a compelling, unsettling tale of a polygamous household and the women within Baba Segi's walls. Shoneyin's sharply written portrait of a family and a nation gripped by the past, yet surging into modernity, manages to be funny, disconcerting and violent all at once. An utterly gripping read. (Patricia Duncker)

A rich debut... an engrossing and beautifully written domestic tale of polygamy and rivalry set in her native Nigeria. (Harper's Bazaar 2010-03-01)

Riveting... a truly compelling tale... (Davina Morris The Voice 2010-04-05)

An engrossing portrayal of a polygamous household... a rich portrait of a family on the verge of collapse. (Yasmin Sulaiman The List 2010-04-01)

An insightful and compelling tale set within a polygamous household (Pride 2011-01-01)

A novel of clamorous intensity. With such Chaucerian tumult, one expects comedy and there is certainly some humour here, but much pain too... Shoneyin's language is that of a poet, both extravagant and exact... Well-structured and with a gratifying resolution. (Jane Housham Guardian 2011-01-15)

Exquisitely written... Shoneyin's prose is by turns violent, evocative, witty, humane and gripping. (Danuta Kean Mslexia 2011-11-01)

A bodacious first novel (Bernadine Evaristo Wasafiri 2013-01-01)

Book Description

'A rich debut... an engrossing and beautifully written domestic tale of polygamy and rivalry' Harpers Bazaar

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
34 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful novel 23 Jun 2010
Feminism is relative. And although some of the actions of Baba Segi's Wives are diabolical, some are heroic. If one must have a fat old husband because there is no other option, then why not have fantastic sex with the butcher? The story follows the escapades of these women as they fight and love and live as the wives of Baba Segi. Lola Shoneyin is a wonderful poet. In her debut novel, The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives, this has translated into beautiful, well constructed sentences, powerful imagery and plucky dialogue. Her characters are so well rounded that you can love and despise them in a single sentence. Baba Segi is a fabulous creation, and his story of living in rapidly changing times, where the past is clashing with the future - is a universal one. Reading this book, it is possible to learn something about Nigeria, about the practise of polygamous marriages, about a rich and interesting culture, about gender. Although Baba Segi is a dying breed, in a way, he will be missed. I read this novel in one sitting, and look forward to reading again. I admire Baba Segi's wives for inventiveness, and Baba Segi for forgiveness, but most of all, I admire the writer, Lola Shoneyin, who has written bravely about a subject that may make men rethink about marrying that second wife...
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50 of 51 people found the following review helpful
Before Reading The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives, I had never read any literary work by Lola Shoneyin. Having read it however, I will definitely be on the look out for any of her future offerings.

The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives traces the lives of five people (Ishola Alao A.K.A. Baba Segi and his four wives: Iya Segi, Iya Tope, Iya Femi and the newest wife, Bolanle). The book lets the reader into the vicissitudes in the lives of these women which sees them pitching their tents in matrimony with Ishola; from the latent feelings of homosexuality and the worship of money that the fat Iya Segi harboured, to the physical abuse, sufferings and desires for revenge that blighted the existence of Iya Femi and the almost cuckoo Iya Tope. And to top all these is the almost mysterious Bolanle who has sought refuge in this polygamous household despite the fact that she sticks out like a sore thumb being the only educated spouse in the midst of an illiterate husband and three illiterate co-wives.

Ishola, a male chauvinist, is supremely proud of his virility and his seven children. He is puffed up with the achievement of having bagged a woman who has a university degree and does not for a moment stop to think if there is a reason she has chosen him as a husband instead of a man who is as educated as she is. Of all his wives, she is the one woman that he has chosen by himself to be his wife (the other three wives having been thrust upon him by one circumstance or the other).

Bolanle's continued barrenness gives Ishola more than a little cause for concern and the search for a cure unleashes gob smacking revelations in his life.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Compelling, funny and unpredictable story! 24 Jun 2010
What first attracted me to this book was the title, although the title gives you a good idea of its contents, you cannot imagine how captivating the story is.

It threw me deep into the world of Baba Segi and his extended family, It has got twists, funny expressions, real life descriptions, first person narrations and it is highly expressive. Lola has done a good job with this book. I am looking forward to more books by her, I cannot wait to get engrossed with such a compelling story again.

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is a beautiful book 19 April 2010
This is a beautiful book ; starting out as a comic description of a large, vain man with bowel trouble and far too many scheming wives, which could easily have become a shrill treatise - but it develops instead as a multi-voiced, multi-layered narrative about the workings of a polygamous Nigerian household and its secrets, which unravel dramatically and touchingly over the course of the story. The characters come alive so powerfully, each in their own voice, that when I finished, I felt for days afterwards I was walking around with Bolanle, Segi, Baba Segi and the others in my head.

Ms Shoneyin uses comedy, a poetic sensibility, powerful imagery and a very humane approach - not pointing the finger but rather giving us a chance to understand people's motives and back stories, from the four very different wives to the children and the patriarch himself, who in the end cuts an unexpectedly pathetic figure. It's refreshing to read such a subtle and un-dogmatic account of an important social issue; Ms Shoneyin clearly abhors polygamy for its effects (particularly on the women and children), but she understands the people involved from within (I read in an interview that her grandmother was one such polygamous wife) and gives us a chance to get under their skin before we judge them.

I have read some of Shoneyin's poetry as well; she is a writer with a wonderful humanity and a light touch; soulfulness shines through all her work.

I would encourage anyone to read this book; male or female and any nationality; it's firmly and atmospherically set in Ibadan, Nigeria but resonates for anyone interested in family, marriage etc.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic and funny
Enjoyed it from start to finish. The different personalities and how they can view the same societal conundrums so differently. Good read
Published 7 days ago by Mfikeyi Makayi
5.0 out of 5 stars Nice
Best laugh my friends and I have had in a long time. Took me right back home to the village....miss all that.
Published 1 month ago by Jocy
1.0 out of 5 stars Waste of time
Reading this was an actual waste of time. very predictable from the beginning, nothing in it to keep one captivated. Very elementary as a previous reviewer said.
Published 2 months ago by Deirdre
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic novel
Bolanle is the fourth wife of Baba Segi, and she is childless. Already an outsider in the family home as the only wife to hold a university degree, her inability to conceive gives... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Sam
5.0 out of 5 stars great funny different book
It's funny and you really root for the protagonist, and indeed baba Segi at times. It's got some interesting twists and sheds light on the often complex bonds and hierachies within... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Lullabelle
4.0 out of 5 stars Loved this book!
I was completely drawn into the story and found her characterisations, sharp and believable. Can't wait for the next book.
Published 3 months ago by FunkyChicken
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written
This is an interesting look into an unconventional family. Lola Shoneyin's prose have a poetic quality. A quick and easy read.
Published 3 months ago by Ian
5.0 out of 5 stars sensational
Lola brought her readers close to the Action, felt like we where right in the story with her. Reminded me of home. Every bit Nigerian.
Published 4 months ago by bola
5.0 out of 5 stars An intriguing read...I just couldn't put it down until I finished it
Excellent insight into polygamy. Baba Segi got the biggest shock of his life. Won't spoil it by elaborating any further but this book was extremely entertaining. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Ronnie Robinson
4.0 out of 5 stars GOOD
Still reading it looks good so far. looking forward to the rest of it.
havent read a book by a nigerian author in a while
Published 4 months ago by Chioma
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