I only just got round to reading Lola Shoneyin’s novel; The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives and I thought I’d try my hand at a review.
The story of the normalisation of madness in Nigeria has not yet been fully told but Ms Shoneyin’s effort with this novel is a cool handed insight into the asylum of polygamy….the place where women exist solely at the pleasure of men…perfectly substitute goods with their demand also being perfectly elastic.
But this story is not just about polygamy. It’s a microcosm of Nigeria, the place where glaring contradictions are abided.
Contradictions are of course not anything new or strange, what makes our own case different is the manner in which these contradictions are accepted and tolerated.
Thus, introspection has become a strange thing and any attempt to challenge the status quo is a call to arms for those who are never quite sure why they defend what it is they defend…beyond that they are afraid of what they do not know.
We are of course happy to spend money that flows, seemingly endlessly, out of the oil wells of the Niger Delta but raise our eyebrows in surprise when confronted with the underbelly of the same region and the consequences of the kind of exploitation that gives nothing back.
We love religion especially the parts that promise us the riches of Solomon and the transfer of wealth of the nations to us but pretend not to see the parts that make it a tough call for a rich man to enter into heaven, the final destination, saddled with those same riches.
We are happy to criticise our leaders for stealing us blind and making inane decisions on our behalf all the while doing the same thing in our own offices and homes, after all small scale stealing cant possibly be the same thing as large scale larceny.
Ms Shoneyin manages not to get angry as she tells this story from all possible angles. Every character’s madness is laid bare and is given a decent justification no matter how ludicrous. This is no mean feat as one can only imagine that she holds this matter very dearly to her heart and couldn’t possibly be pleased about it.
Her reasoning is perhaps that there must be a method to all of this madness. It’s your call, the reader, to decide which of all these arguments swirling about the asylum to buy.
But what she’s done is to hold up our national maladies, for they are plenty on display in this book, to the light and let the darkness be exposed.
I hope this is the beginning. That we will as individuals and a nation begin to question these things we do which have come to be normalised in our society but which a trip to a different society will quickly reveal as unadulterated madness.
Parts of the book are incredibly funny; a scene where the ‘open ended’ Baba Segi attempts to give a ‘sample’ of ‘body water’ in a clinic left me laughing out loud as I read on the train.
But you are unable to laugh for too long. The issues are so serious that the smile is soon wiped, very rudely, from your face as you turn to the next page. It’s not a laughing matter at all.
As I turned the last page of the book, I couldn’t help but wonder; is it that we haven’t quite lived at all? That life inside the asylum is a poor copy of what it really should be? That the vast majority of our people are yet to experience anything remotely close to normality? To say nothing of those who have died and been sent off with the obligatory ‘With gratitude to God for a life well lived’. One wonders where such a well lived life managed to run its course, isolated from the popular madness.
This is an adult book (there’s plenty of sex in it but never gratuitous) written for adults and I suspect, designed to start an adult debate on the issues raised. Children are advised to give it a swerve.
Beyond the sombre tone of this book written in an English language style that has almost been forgotten, the very last page offers that great sustainer of the human race in the face of a bleak existence and a brutal past. That thing which, because it costs nothing, can be consumed generously even to excess.
Because there is life, hope springs eternal.
The book is available at all respectable book stores as well on Amazon and in e-book format. I have never met Ms Shoneyin but I think she spins a damn good yarn. You should read it if you haven’t done so already.