The Secret Lives of the Four Wives by Lola Shoneyin explores polygamy in modern Nigeria. Bolanle, an educated young Nigerian woman, makes the inexplicable (to her parents, anyway) decision to become the fourth wife of a wealthy older Nigerian man, Baba Segi. The Secret Lives of the Four Wives is about what happens to Baba Segi’s household, and his wives, once Bolanle joins the household.
The first three wives are less than hospitable to Bolanle, with two of them actually plotting her demise. Meanwhile, Bolanle is still childless after two years of marriage, to Baba Segi’s great consternation. When he decides to seek medical intervention to determine why, the book starts to explore why the other three wives resent Bolanle so much, as well as the secrets that they have each kept to keep their husband – and their household – a happy one. What once seemed black and white gets a lot more complicated, with shades of gray now permeating the characters.
I enjoyed The Secret Lives of the Four Wives a lot. Shoneyin’s writing is crisp and sparse, and her unspooling of the family’s secrets is satisfying and well-paced. I also enjoyed learning about how dificult modern Nigerian culture can be for women. I get a little provincial in my reading at times – lots of contemporary American settings in the books I choose – so this was a great change of pace, though I could have used even more detail about Nigeria.
Overall, a good read. Thanks to William Morrow for the review copy (Hi FTC!) – I think that’s how this one ended up on my TBR. Give this one a try if the plot sounds appealing – you won’t be disappointed.