Bolanle, a young university graduate, became the fourth wife of Baba Segi. Her family doesn’t understand her decision and the three other women see her as a threat. Baba Segi is delighted to have a young intellectual wife, but he is soon disillusioned. Bolanle didn’t get pregnant after two years of marriage. She refuses to see any traditional doctor and her husband finally decides to bring her to the hospital. The first and third wives of Baba Segi are plotting to get rid of Bolanle. Not only does she make them feel inferior, but she could also make the world know about their secret.
It’s very easy to guess the secret of Baba Segi’s wives, but Lola Shoneyin was still able to keep us curious about the plot. I particularly liked the fact that we sometimes feel sympathy for the worst characters. Each of the wives had a touching story that led her to Baba Segi’s home. None of them went there out of love. To protect themselves from gossip, to obey their parents, to flee from misery. It was mostly because the society didn't really give them another alternative.
« The secret lives of the four wives » is a novel I would recommend to everyone, men and women. Lola Shoneyin shows how society looks at women who do not have children. In the house of Baba Segi whose real name is Ishola Alao, the spouses are called « Iya X », X being the first name of their first child. Even the head of the family is named Baba Segi in reference to his first daughter. This reminds me of the Arabic tradition where men and women are generally being called by referring to their father or their first child for the women. We don't usually question it but it’s a representation of the difference established between single and married women, mothers, and those that haven't conceive yet. In many societies, it looks like a woman is not complete until she’s got married and/or had a child. And that’s very sad!
Lola Shoneyin talks about the drawbacks of polygamy. It creates a space where each wife is constantly on her guard. Most of the books I read about the subject show that polygamy usually only benefits the man. It was the case in « Xala » by Sembene Ousmane and « So long a letter » by Mariama Ba. We may think about some possible advantages but in general, it looks like this system causes more harms to the wives and their children. I particularly liked a passage where Baba Segi advised his son Akin to take only one wife.
« When the time comes for you to marry, take one wife and one wife alone. And when she causes you pain, as all women do, remember it is better that your pain comes from one source alone. Listen to your wife’s words, listen to the words she doesn’t speak so that you will be prepared. A man must always be prepared »
So you got my point, rush to buy and read « The secret lives of the four wives » by Lola Shoneyin.