BOOK REVIEW: The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives by Lola Shoneyin

The Secret Wives of Babi Segi's Wives by Lola ShoneyinThe Secret Lives of Baba Sagi’s Wives
By Lola Shoneyin
Completed July 29, 2011

Bolanle is the youngest and newest wife to enter Baba Sagi’s household. The only one of the wives that is educated, Bonanle presents a threat to the other wives – in more ways than one. They are intimidated by her education and concerned that a secret shared by all three wives will be revealed. So begins the plight of the women who are the cornerstone to The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives.

Told from alternating viewpoints, Lola Shoneyin gives her readers just enough to keep the story moving, uncovering small angles of the story with each chapter. We learn about each wife: Iya Segi, Iya Tope and Iya Femi as well as Bolanle and Babi Segi. Individually, their stories are a fascinating look at polygamous marriage and how they came to marry Babi Segi.

While the entire story was engaging, I found the first three wives to be horrible, conniving and distrustful. I didn’t like them, even as I learned their “backstories.” Baba Segi was even less likeable. Bonanle was the saving grace, and I was usually relieved when I learned the next chapter would be told from her point of view. The ending was sad – unnecessarily tragic – and I let out a big sigh when I finished this book. All in all, The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives was just an average read for me. Be sure to check out others’ reviews, though, before deciding to read this book. (  )

FTC Disclosure: This book was sent to me by the publisher for review on my blog.

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BOOK REVIEW: Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi AdichiePurple Hibiscus
By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Completed July 11, 2011

In her debut novel, Chimananda Ngozi Adichie engrosses her reader with the story of 15-year-old Kambili, a young girl living in Nigeria under the abusive rule of her father, Eugene. Kambili and her older brother, Jaja, are forced to live in the strictest of circumstances – punished physically and emotionally for the smallest of infractions – all while their country goes to hell in a handbasket.

The siblings get a reprieve when their Aunty Ifeoma invites them to her house for a holiday. There, Kambili and Jaja see a more loving home where children can make mistakes and express their opinions. It’s an eye-opening stay for them both. It added more rebellion to Jaja’s ways, and it showed Kambili a different kind of Catholicism, led by her friendship with a young priest. When the two returned home, they struggled to live under their father’s oppressive rule.

Let’s talk a moment about Eugene, who I call “Asshole.” A  jerk to his wife and kids, he was the pinnacle of charity to his community, often paying for other children’s education and donating large sums of money to the Church. He also funded the only Nigerian newspaper that spoke out against dictatorship, and his views on democracy were quite enlightened. While his public persona was admirable, his private life was disgusting. The way he treated his wife and children were unforgiveable. Charity begins at home, Asshole.

Don’t let this ugly character dissuade you. Purple Hibiscus is a stunning story.  Adichie is magical in her writing, transporting her readers to Nigeria with just a few sentences. I could smell the flowers, taste the food and see the landscape. She adeptly mixes her native tongue into the dialogue – all without losing the reader. She’s astonishingly talented for such a young woman.

I can’t recommend Purple Hibiscus enough. You will learn a lot about Nigerian culture, and be moved by the story and characters. If you haven’t read stories by Adichie, this is a good place to start. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. (  )

REVIEW: Little Bee by Chris Cleave

Little Bee by Chris CleaveLittle Bee
By Chris Cleave
Completed April 24, 2011

Is it a daunting task to cast a light on your own country to amplify areas that need improvement? For many writers, this is the foundation of their work: to remind readers that we are not perfect; we have much work to do. I believe Chris Cleave, author of Little Bee, falls into this category. His short novel about a Nigerian refugee is powerful in many ways – but it’s the underlying theme about the policies of his native England that pack the biggest punch.

Little Bee is 16 years old and has seen more than most people see in a lifetime. She escaped Nigeria after soldiers (hired by companies with oil interests) murdered her entire family. She lands in England, where she is kept in a detention center for two years. When finally freed, she only knows two people – a young British couple she met while they vacationed in Nigeria – and contacts them for help. Little did she realize that this request would sever Andrew and Sarah’s troubling relationship in a most tragic way.

Through alternating narratives, we learn how Little Bee met Andrew and Sarah, about her escape from Nigeria and the horrid conditions she endured at the British detention camp. Cleave paints a sad picture. He fills it, though, with some warm spots – Little Bee’s quick wit, Sarah’s adorable son and Little Bee’s memories of her village life.

However, despite the richness of these characters, they have horrible flaws. Some flaws were more forgiveable than others. I found the unforgivable flaws, though, very distracting from Cleave’s message . Additionally, while I enjoyed Little Bee’s character, I find her a tad unrealistic at times. Her British English was too perfect; her outlook a little too enlightened. Admittedly, it’s a small complaint.

Little Bee is a perfect book club selection with its many themes and plot twists. Those who like “happily ever after” stories should skip this one, for Cleave creates a realistic ending to his novel. Some may like it; others may not. Overall, I liked Little Bee and hope its message of humanity resonates with its readers – as it did with me. (  )

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