Thursday, August 12, 2010

Joint Review: The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives

Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives
The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives takes place in modern day Nigeria, where Baba Segi lives with his four wives and their children.  Baba Segi is generally happy but has recently become very bothered by the fact that his fourth, and newest, wife Bolanle, has not yet conceived. Bolanle is a shy and unassuming young woman who has her own reasons for marrying Baba Segi, reasons that overshadow her life but are not shared with anyone. When Baba Segi begins to take this matter of non-conception into his own hands, a startling picture of the family's home life is revealed.
It seems that Baba Segi's other wives are not happy with their husband's choice of Bolanle. To start with, she is far more educated than any of the others, and where the other women are cruel and calculating, Bolanle is even-tempered and mild. When the first and third wife begin to plot unfortunate accidents for Bolanle, a war begins to rage silently in their home. Though Bolanle knows she is despised and victimized, she chooses to remain with her husband and the other wives, no matter what it will cost her. Soon Baba Segi is furiously searching for answers to his wife's barrenness, but in doing this, he will uncover a secret that will threaten to disrupt his home in ways he can scarcely imagine. Written with a sense of directness and combustion, The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives uncovers the life of a fiercely dysfunctional family living in the throes of polygamy.
Both Heather from Raging Bibliomania and I received this book to review through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program, so we decided to do a joint review of it.  Below is the second half of our review.  Check out the first half on Heather's blog!

Apologies for the formatting on this post.  I have NO IDEA what is going wrong.

Heather:  I also didn't get why all the other wives hated Bolanle so much. I mean her education would have little to do with their daily lives, and unless it was just jealously, it didn't really make much sense. I can understand that the wives may have felt that she would usurp their positions, but that never seemed to be in danger of happening. It's not like Baba Segi ever really treated her nicely anyway, and often he spent a lot of time criticizing her for her barrenness. I would have thought that Bolanle earned a little bit of their respect with all the selfless ways that she behaved, but no, that was never considered by the other women. I think it's was too easy for this author to resort to the stereotypes that she did in this book. The other women hated her why? Oh, no reason really, just because they are polygamists and often that is what happens in these types of situations. That is what she seems to be saying. I guess the only way to think of Bolanle in this story is that she was the vehicle for change in the home of Baba Segi. Her character seemed to exist in this tale solely to change the dynamic of his relationships with his wives. That may be oversimplifying things, but that's what it felt like.
Aarti:  That's a really good point, and I guess Bolanle was an instigator- she made everyone look at their pasts and their roles and come to terms with what happened.
Heather:  Bolanle as a main character though was mystifying to me at times. Though she had been attacked in her past, and was wishing to leave all that behind by marring Baba Segi, she just didn't seem to really fit in with the rest of the story. I mean, those women were just awful to her, and it became a life and death matter, and still, she did nothing and was sweet to everyone all the time? It didn't really ring true to me, because she had no attitude of self preservation in her, and though she was affable, it came off as weakness. I didn't like the fact that she never stood up for herself with the other women, she just took all that crap and locked herself in her room. To me, she just didn't seem like a genuine character. I would have liked to see some spit fire from her.
Aarti:  I don't think we really got to know Bolanle well enough to see the connection between her past self via the back story and her current self via the contemporary story.  I also just didn't get the relationship with her mother (or any of the women's relationships with their mothers) or her sister or her dad- I don't know why they were really in the story at all.  It seemed like a lot of characters were just in and out without any real purpose
Heather:  It was as if her back story and her current actions didn't completely match up. I did feel like there was much that wasn't delved into regarding Bolanle. I think she existed for a purpose in the story, and it almost seems like everything else was written around her. She seemed sort of vague and indistinct, and I think so much more could have been done with her character, so much more life given to her. It's never really even satisfactorily explained why she refuses to become angry when the women treat her like they do. Ahh, so much I don't know about her, her motivations, her thought processes. It was just too simple to make her the main character and then have her motivations and behavior so shrouded.Her relationship with her parents was just, I felt another aspect of just how much this book was studded with caricatures. Her mother was an overworked harpy, and honestly, I didn't get or believe that Bolanle would keep coming back to her and hankering for her approval. If it were me, I would just flee the scene, never to return. I mean she had so much other unhappiness in her life, why opt to take on more? I just didn't like the majority of the characters in this book. They seemed mean for the sake of being mean, and nothing else. It's not really complex and diverting to fill a book full of mean people when there is no motivation for their meanness.I guess overall, I feel this book was just messy at times, full of characters that weren't genuine and a plot that only served to tell an unconvincing story. I had had such high hopes for it, and though the pacing was quick, I felt very unsatisfied with it.

Aarti:  Another thing that annoyed me was that there was so much POV switching and I often didn't know who was the narrator until well into a chapter.  Or I'd get confused about who was who.  For instance, I thought Wife #1 and Wife #3 had very similar voices and it was hard for me to differentiate between them in their chapters.  This made it really hard for me to keep their stories straight.

Heather:  The POV switching was confusing! It really bothered me at first and for awhile I kept skimming each chapter at the beginning to see who was talking. I think for this type of thing to work, each voice has to be very distinct, and the voices in this story just weren't. The first and third wives were so much alike that I was constantly getting confused, and even chapters narrated by other characters all carried the same voice. I imagine it can be hard to make this type of device successful. Here it just didn't work for me. It distracted.

I don't think that I would be able to recommend this book to other readers, simply because I had such a hard time digging out the character's motivations and the twisting of it's plot. I think that a lot of it boiled down to sloppy writing and half baked ideas, but overall, I was a lot less enamored of the book than I had been expecting to be.

Aarti:  I feel the same way.  I think it has a wonderful cover and an interesting premise, but it just didn't deliver on plot or character development.
I received this book for free to review.


  1. How disappointing! I've been excited to read this book since first seeing it mentioned... somewhere! But it seems you two weren't a fan. I will likely still give it a try at some point, but might go buy it right away like I was planning to.

  2. Thanks for sharing this read with me Aarti! I think that this book really could have been a lot more successful if it hadn't tried to be such a parody of polygamous life. Fortunatley, there are a lot of othet books out there that deal with this subject more seriously.

    Amy: I would definitely say to wait for the softcover release on this one!

  3. Great shared review, they are so much fun since I get two POVS at the same time :)

  4. The story held a lot of promise but it seems like it wasn't delivered on. I hate when that happens. And since I am so analytical it drives me crazy when characters are drawn in such a way that you can't make sense of who they are or why they are acting a certain way. I would probably be very frustrated reading this.

  5. Aarti, I am here from Heather's blog to read your portion of the review. You both do a wonderful job discussing the book. The POV shifts sound confusing to me (I hate when I'm not sure who's speaking).

  6. sounds like a slightly confusing or poorly edited book ,but the subject matter intrigues me the multiple marriages thing have seen it cover in a couple of tv programms and always thought it would make a good novel ! ,all the best stu

  7. Amy- Yes, it was very disappointing! From the cover and the description, I thought it would be fun, but... I look forward to your thoughts when you do read it, though!

    Zibilee- I had so much fun reading it with you, too, though I preferred the other reads we've done.

    Blodeuedd- I like the joint reads, too. We should do another one soon!

    Kathleen- I hate that, too. I definitely feel you on the frustration front.

    Suko- Thanks for stopping by! I found the POV thing very confusing.

    Stu- I think Zibilee prefers The Lonely Polygamist for a good take on polygamy, if you're looking for a different book to try- though that is American polygamy.

  8. As I was telling Heather, the lack of character development in particular really puts me off. It's too bad! But I loved reading your discussion :)

  9. A beautiful way to discuss a book!

    I must say i'm dissapointed with the review for I was looking forward to a more intricate book

    Come over to BookReviews at BookRack

  10. This seems like such an amazing book when you read the description. Such a shame that the characters aren't fleshed-out well. I enjoyed reading your joint review!


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