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55 of 56 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Witty Account of the Inner Dynamics of a Polygamous Marriage
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...
Published on 11 April 2010 by SMC

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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars 3 1/2 stars something a bit different
Quite a good story in places very good, the sort of book you can read on the bus without having to reread big chunks later, the wives are well described and I had a very good picture in my head of them all. Some of the time I guessed what was coming next and sometimes I guessed and felt cheated that it was that obvious, I would have said that I had enjoyed this as a light...
Published on 21 Aug. 2011 by grumpya


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55 of 56 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Witty Account of the Inner Dynamics of a Polygamous Marriage, 11 April 2010
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. In the midst of this is the jealousy that rages amongst the older wives at the attention Ishola pays Bolanle and the inferiority complex they feel towards her on account of their being unlettered. Despite the ill feelings borne towards her by her co-wives and their maltreatment of her, Bolanle bears it all with quiet stoicism and acts remarkably with gallantry and grace.

The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives is a witty story about polygamy which has diabolical plots, murder, jealousy & secrets; and is told with compassion and understanding by the author. As a reader, it forces one to think that there just might be more than meets the eye when one sees women cleave themselves to a man irrespective of the fact that he is already joined in matrimony to another.

It was an enjoyable read for me and I recommend that you read it yourself.
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42 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful novel, 23 Jun. 2010
By 
Christie Watson (London) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
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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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Compelling, funny and unpredictable story!, 24 Jun. 2010
By 
B. Adesuyi (Aberdeen) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
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.

BKA
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8 of 8 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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Captivating and Highly Entertaining Tale of Intrigues and Forbidden Passions and Conspiracies, 11 May 2010
In this engaging and thoroughly entertaining piece, Lola Shoneyin presents to us a deeply illuminating protrait of a polygamous family in a traditional African setting, with all its intrigues and rancourous rivalries. Packed with humour and spices of proverbs and wisecracks, it is a tale of women's lives conditioned in the prison of culture, a story of struggles for survival, of forbidden passions and family conspiracies.

The Alao's family is the meeting point of different individual stories, but it wasnt the melting pot. The focus, as the title aptly suggest, is on the women's lives' stories before and after they were married to Baba Segi. For a start, it is telling that the women-like their husbands- were known mainly or only by their children- their identity and worth seemed to be tied to the number of children. Indeed, in Baba Segi we meet a man who see women essentially as factories for making children. With four wives and seven children, he was just starting!

The first wife, Iya Segi, grew up in the village with her Trader mother. She was uneducated by highly ambitious, and for a moment the reader if left to ponder how her ambition could have been helped by a sound education. Iya Segi was industrious and prudently saved much money, which she kept in her bedroom. Until the day her mother found the money and promptly decided her ambitions were dangerous and it was time she married! when the daughter remarked that "women dont need husbands", the mother propmtly replied: "You do. You need one to bear children. the world has no patience for spinsters... it is every womn's life purpose to bear children" All her money was given to her future husband, who she hardly knew. "He will need it to look after you".

The second wife, Iya Tope, was the child of a farmer, who was hired by Baba Segi to till the land for him. In one particular year the harvest did very badly, and Iya Tope was given as compensation for Baba Segi's loss. For the third wife, Iya Femi, the story is slightly different, although she also grew up in the village. We know quite little about her parents, but the little we know is significant. She was an only child, and her hard working parents were determined to provide for all her need, including her education. She was especially her mother's pet, but both her parents died suddenly in mysterious circumstances, and the uncle, who had promised to do everything for her, not only sent her out of a house built by her deceased parents, but effectively 'sold' her as a house servant to a rich family in Ibadan city. Iya Femi would later lament: ".. from the day I got there, I was a house-girl and my status did not change. They pillaged the most fruitful years of my life, all the time treating me as if they'd find me in a pit latrine".

Bolanle was the fourth wife, and the only one who was educated. Infact, Bolanle was a university graduate! How did she end up as the 4th wife of an uneducated man and 3 illiterate rivals? She bears the heavy burden of a tragic incident when she was 15, added to this is the untold pressure of a perfectionist mother, and a strongly patriachal, male-centred society. And she tried to convince herself as a reformer on a mission to educate and refine her illiterate rivals. On the contrary, it turned out she was a ticking time bomb whose adventure would expose a tranquility built on a pack of lies, taking the life of young Segi in the process, and making Baba Segi to come to terms with the truth about the seven youngsters who call him 'father'.

It is a book you wont want to put down in a sitting, an emotional roller-coaster that will keep you glued to the book as you turn from page to page. I strongly recommend it.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Didn't want it to end, 16 Feb. 2013
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This review is from: The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives (Paperback)
I loved that she gave the characters their own chapters, we are able to get the whole character as we get to hear the story from their point of view making them so much more human and meaning you cant help but to empathis with all of them. She cuts out on some details yet still managing to get to the point and so made it such an easy read which means i just couldn't put it down and i was done with it in a couple of days and no I'm usually not a fast reader so it was that good. But I have to say I wanted the last wifes story to continue that little bit longer at the end.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Read it in one day. Loved it., 14 Nov. 2013
This is a truly beautiful story. The characters are very well drawn; you really come to understand each character's motivation for their actions. There is a lot of pain in this book but it is so skilfully balanced against thy humour that it never becomes overwhelming. It has clearly been written by someone who knows Yoruba people well. The actions of the characters do not necessarily reflect the behaviour of Yoruba people but the practicality, zest for life and ambition to make the next generation better than the preceding one is evident. To the author, very well done!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars V Good, 1 Oct. 2010
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As gleaned from the title, this is the story of Baba Segi and the audacious secrets of his many wives. The book covers issues surrounding polygamy, extra-marital affairs, juju, lies, envy, class, education and the family in its many forms. Whilst all these compete for prime position, each helps to unravel the superficial fabric of Baba Segi's household.

I find the characters, the story sequence, the narratives and the ingenious way the reader is provided with more insight into a particular character's psyche, captivating. What is perhaps interesting are the emotions the ending imposes on readers. Without giving much away, my male friend feels the ending is very sad...

I'm giving this book 4 stars mainly because the book's over-the-top sex references (eg 'pounding' a wife until she's cross-eyed) leaves me cold. I also find Baba Segi's level of personal filth disconcerting, and rather unbelievable. Despite these, I highly recommend this book and will certainly look out for more books by the same author.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nothing is hidden forever..., 27 Aug. 2010
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Through the lives of Baba Segi's wives the reader learns about some of the struggles and prejudices faced by women in Yoruba culture. You also learn about their resourcefulness (good and bad) to deal with the challenges life throws at them. It's a humorous and enjoyably expressive piece of writing. I would happily buy another book written by this author.
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5.0 out of 5 stars I read this from cover to cover without stopping - couldn't even put it down to cook, sleep or have a bath, 4 May 2015
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This is a brilliant book. It is the characters who draw you in: they are all utterly compelling and yet barely one of them is in any way likeable. Every facet of human nastiness is acutely observed, from the ignorance and narcissism of Baba Segi, to the casual misogyny of the male characters ("Women are such fickle creatures! They will eventually destroy this world with their slippery snails.") to the spine-chilling vindictiveness of Iya Femi and Iya Segi. The novel is crammed full of the worst extremes of human behaviour: child abuse, slavery, filicide, domestic abuse, neglect, cruelty, vigilantism (in one chapter, almost as an aside, Shoneyin recounts how a man is burned alive by a lynch mob in just two, understated sentences.) Rarely has a novelist achieved such moments of comic genius from such utterly dark subject matter. But perhaps what makes the novel a relentless as well as gripping read is the sheer lack of empathy or compassion from all but one of the main characters. Compassion appears absent even between mother and child or husband and wife or between lovers and because of this the reader feels compelled to feel compassion on the characters' behalf. About halfway through I actually had to put the book down because I felt slightly bruised and battered from immersing myself in these people's stories, but then I had to pick it up again because the book was so gripping. People are bound to compare this to Things Fall Apart, but actually in a funny kind of way it reminded me of Evelyn Waugh, in the darkness of the humour and the way that she conveys a particular era, class and culture by depicting the very worst people one can possibly imagine inhabiting it. Five stars. No, actually six stars.
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The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives
The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives by Lola Shoneyin (Paperback - 6 Jan. 2011)
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