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The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives: A Novel Hardcover – June 29, 2010

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow; 1 edition (June 29, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061946370
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061946370
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 1 x 7.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 0.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (99 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #88,179 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Blind acceptance splinters a polygamous marriage in Shoneyin's gripping debut set in modern-day Nigeria. Bolanle Alao, the newest and youngest of Baba Segi's wives, threatens to upset the balance of power--she is educated and beautiful, though naïve about the relationship dynamics among the other three wives in the house. Raped at 15, Bolanle considers herself disgraced and unwanted until Baba Segi, an overweight, malodorous businessman welcomes her into his family, no questions asked, until it seems she cannot conceive. Like the other wives, she feels she has been saved by Baba Segi, who accepts all of them politely, but beyond brief mentions of his sexual encounters and visits to the toilet, Baba Segi is a peripheral character. When greedy Iya Segi and Iya Femi plot to run young, sweet Bolanle out of the family, the result is disaster. It is Bolanle's unexpected submissiveness that leads her and her husband to uncover a secret that forces him to assert his control over the family. Shoneyin masterfully disentangles four distinct stories, only to subtly expose what is common among them.
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A Rabelaisian picture of polygamous marriage,comically capturing the physical realities of ordinary Nigerian life. -- Giles Foden 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 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 Riveting... a truly compelling tale... -- Davina Morris The Voice An engrossing portrayal of a polygamous household... a rich portrait of a family on the verge of collapse. -- Yasmin Sulaiman The List An insightful and compelling tale set within a polygamous household Pride 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 Exquisitely written... Shoneyin's prose is by turns violent, evocative, witty, humane and gripping. -- Danuta Kean Mslexia A bodacious first novel -- Bernadine Evaristo Wasafiri --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

This was fabulous story with well developed characters and plot lines.
Louise Jolly
Lovely read, the characterization was just great couldn't really put it down whenever I picked it up, real page turner...
Amazon Customer
Great story giving insight into the lives of women from diverse upbringings all brought together under one roof.
Martha Conkling

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

45 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Live2Cruise VINE VOICE on May 28, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This little novel tackles some pretty deep themes in only 280 fast-paced pages. Set in Nigeria, it begins with the addition of a fourth wife, Bolanle, into the home of Baba Segi, a well-off businessman who prides himself on his wives and many children. Bolanle is envied and resented by the other wives, who are jealous and fearful of her educated status and worried that she will steal away Baba Segi's already divided affections.

It's a fascinating look into a polygamous household and the complexities of family life. It's also a meditation on gender, power, class, and the idea of sacrificing one's self for security. Bolanle harbors a sad secret, and the other wives have some big secrets of their own. The novel is told from the alternating perspectives of each of the four wives. Baba Segi himself doesn't have a voice until near the end of the novel. Despite the alternating voices, the novel maintains a smooth flow and a clear narrative. The prose is concise but powerful. While Bolanle is the main voice of the novel, it's surprising how easy it is to feel a connection with the other characters who have much shorter narratives. As the novel unfolds, the background of each wife prior to her marriage to Baba Segi is revealed, providing insight into their fears and motivations.

Overall this is a quick, but deep read that I thoroughly enjoyed and continued to ponder after the last page was turned.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By LH422 VINE VOICE on June 16, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Set in Nigeria, this novel examines the jealousies and complexities of a polygamous family. The household of Baba Segi Alao, patriarch, three wives, many children, and a new arrival, a fourth wife, Bolanle. Bolanle is different, it seems to the other wives: young, well-educated, attractive, her presence threatens to overturn the uneasy balance that has reigned in the Alao household. Bolanle is also childless, and much of the novel deals with her difficulties conceiving. Her efforts to overcome infertility threaten to expose some of the family's darkest secrets. Told by a broad cast of characters, the reader soon learns that secrets are the norm in this household, and each member harbors them. Polygamy was not the first choice for any of the wives, but all harbor secrets in their past that threaten their marriageability. The intimate look at how polygamy works was extremely interesting. The wives have all traded past problems for a new kind of hierarchy. The character most interesting to me at the book's conclusion was the least interesting at the outset: Baba Segi. He begins the book as something of a caricature, a man on the make looking to experience and broadcast all trappings of success, including multiple wives. By the end he has experienced significant domestic issues and emotions.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By SMC on April 16, 2010
Format: Paperback
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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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Helena on June 20, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is first novel by well established Nigerian poet Lola Shoneyin. It is a story set in Nigeria and portays a family of a man with four wifes and seven children. The first three wives have produced these children and it is the fourth one that has not produced any after two years of marriage. The fourth wife, Bolanle, is differnt from all of them. She is educated and her college degree puts her at odds with other members of her new family.

It is difficult to comprehend at first why an educated woman like Bolanle, would agree to be the fourth wife of uneducated, well-to-do merchant with no manners and no understanding of the world she comes from. But once this story starts unveiling itself it becomes obvious why all these characters are put together.

Story is told from each character's point of view and it provides very intimate picture of marriage and relationships of this complicated family. It is funny at times but also heartbreaking. Author Lola Shoneyin deserves attention here in US because she is compelling story teller. I am convinced that her storytelling will only get better from this point on.
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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 Masquerade and Iyaji, the Housegirl.

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

Shoneyin is the founder of the Book Buzz Foundation, Nigeria. She is also the director of Ake Arts & Book Festival which takes place in the third week of November in Abeokuta, Ogun State, Nigeria.

She lives in Lagos, Nigeria with four children, four dogs and one husband.

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