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African-born poet Lola Shoneyin makes her fiction debut with The Secret Lives of Babi Segi’s Wives, a perceptive, entertaining, and eye-opening novel of polygamy in modern-day Nigeria. The struggles, rivalries, intricate family politics, and the interplay of personalities and relationships within the complex private world of a polygamous union come to life in The Secret Li African-born poet Lola Shoneyin makes her fiction debut with The Secret Lives of Babi Segi’s Wives, a perceptive, entertaining, and eye-opening novel of polygamy in modern-day Nigeria. The struggles, rivalries, intricate family politics, and the interplay of personalities and relationships within the complex private world of a polygamous union come to life in The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives—Big Love and The 19th Wife set against a contemporary African background.


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African-born poet Lola Shoneyin makes her fiction debut with The Secret Lives of Babi Segi’s Wives, a perceptive, entertaining, and eye-opening novel of polygamy in modern-day Nigeria. The struggles, rivalries, intricate family politics, and the interplay of personalities and relationships within the complex private world of a polygamous union come to life in The Secret Li African-born poet Lola Shoneyin makes her fiction debut with The Secret Lives of Babi Segi’s Wives, a perceptive, entertaining, and eye-opening novel of polygamy in modern-day Nigeria. The struggles, rivalries, intricate family politics, and the interplay of personalities and relationships within the complex private world of a polygamous union come to life in The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives—Big Love and The 19th Wife set against a contemporary African background.

30 review for The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives

  1. 4 out of 5

    Nnedi

    This was one of those novels that takes the well trodden (but almost always readable) path of the African women's novel and turns it on it's head. I burned through novels by Buchi Emecheta and Flora Nwapa because of their raw unapologetic honesty in portraying the lives of Nigerian women. Still, after reading six or seven in a row, I'd find myself just fuming with anger and need for justice. Their books weren't about meting out justice or even a bit of rebellion. The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's This was one of those novels that takes the well trodden (but almost always readable) path of the African women's novel and turns it on it's head. I burned through novels by Buchi Emecheta and Flora Nwapa because of their raw unapologetic honesty in portraying the lives of Nigerian women. Still, after reading six or seven in a row, I'd find myself just fuming with anger and need for justice. Their books weren't about meting out justice or even a bit of rebellion. The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives is that book. In this polygamous household there is complexity, hypocrisy, power, weakness, and a plethora of agendas. These women aren't just voiceless lumps nor are they all powerful goddesses. This man is the head and butt of his household. This novel was hyper real in that it managed to show so many angles of real life all in one narrative. I couldn't put this book down until it was finished and what a satisfying ending. Even if you don't normally read this type of book, I recommend it. You will emerge from this novel with a broadened perspective. *excuse my typos. no time to spell check*

  2. 5 out of 5

    Zanna

    Baba Segi is a patriarch, comfortably off but not rich, unsophisticated and boorish but not brutal, sexist but not misogynistic. In return for a home, financial support, and the dubious privilege of sharing their beds with him on allotted nights, the "four wives" of Baba Segi cook, clean up after and pamper him, massaging his ego. Iya Segi, Iya Tope and Iya Femi look after their children, while the newest wife, graduate Bolanle, anxiously waits to fall pregnant, since it's taken for granted by a Baba Segi is a patriarch, comfortably off but not rich, unsophisticated and boorish but not brutal, sexist but not misogynistic. In return for a home, financial support, and the dubious privilege of sharing their beds with him on allotted nights, the "four wives" of Baba Segi cook, clean up after and pamper him, massaging his ego. Iya Segi, Iya Tope and Iya Femi look after their children, while the newest wife, graduate Bolanle, anxiously waits to fall pregnant, since it's taken for granted by all that childbearing and parenting is a woman's raison d'etre. Baba Segi is chuffed to have an educated wife, but Bolanle's mother is furious with her daughter for throwing herself away on such an oaf. Bolanle's sensibilities do seem out of kilter with her chosen lifestyle (for example, when they first meet, Baba Segi takes Bolanle's reading a novel in his presence as a personal insult) so what's going on? The reason is revealed, but it's only the first of many secrets that come to light in the course of the novel. Much of its appeal is the pleasure of juicy gossip, but the gossip is generally painful and serious, and dealt with sensitively. Shoneyin teaches well, with subtlety and wisdom, I think. Bolanle starts to heal immediately when she reveals her secret; keeping secrets is a source of deep emotional harm to the keeper and others. I was glad that Shoneyin made space for queerness in one story, but sad that the cultural space for it is even smaller than the very limited expression allowed to women's heterosexual desires, explored in another strand. Hearteningly, Bolanle advises Segi, who is a teenager, when she has been out socialising with a crush and his male friends: 'A real woman must always do the things she wants to do, and in her own time too. You must never allow yourself to be rushed into doing things you're not ready for'. Another unexpectedly edifying little moment occurs when Baba Segi tells his teenage son 'only a real man can admit his own weakness'. Baba Segi's ignorance and sexism are a source of hilarity, particularly in the hospital scenes. As well as inducing belly-laughs, these broad strokes signpost the central feminist point of The Joys of Motherhood. You really can't miss the outcry for female autonomy here. I appreciated that there is no judgement over the mention of a historical abortion, which is discussed calmly by the patient, the male doctors examining her, and even by Baba Segi, who shows his lack of education as usual but no moral condemnation. As always, he asks no questions. Shoneyin effectively shows up cultural tropes that render wives and children status-raising accessories to masculinity, but the critique is beautifully nuanced: the moments of sharply constructed emotional resonance, like when Bolanle challenges her mother's attack on her other daughter, Lara, over her pregnancy, often turn on the deeply held reverence for life and the centrality of social reproduction more broadly, just as Buchi Emecheta's satire in The Joys of Motherhood is counterpointed, for example by the amazing scene where random bystanders prevent a suicide. For me none of the characters were really engaging and distinctive enough to make me fall deeply in love with this book. I found the teenage boy Akin appealing, if bland, and thanks to the unfolding back-stories, each first-person narrated to eliminate doubt, I was able to sympathise with all, even with Iya Femi, remembering that the abused becomes the abuser. Maybe I'm just a tough crowd. The strength of the book, apart from its ethical appeal to me as a woman-oriented feminist text, is the style, which is direct, often explicit, with a relish for coarseness and frankness around the body that recalls Angela Carter, but in a Nigerian rather than British tone, and the dialogue rings. In the best possible way, it's like watching TV drama.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Susie Gaines

    This book blew me away. I never thought I'd be interested in a book about Africa; it's usually not my thing. The novel had me hooked after the first page. The language is mesmerising and it was refreshing to read what English sounds like when it has an African feel. The novel is about a polygamous family that is about to implode but doesn't know it. The newest wife fails to conceive and after two years, the patriarch, Baba Segi, takes her (Bolanle) to a hospital. This is where everything starts This book blew me away. I never thought I'd be interested in a book about Africa; it's usually not my thing. The novel had me hooked after the first page. The language is mesmerising and it was refreshing to read what English sounds like when it has an African feel. The novel is about a polygamous family that is about to implode but doesn't know it. The newest wife fails to conceive and after two years, the patriarch, Baba Segi, takes her (Bolanle) to a hospital. This is where everything starts to unravel. I thought it was all going to be simple and straightforward until I found myself well and truly spun into the web of deception and subterfuge. The wives in this novel are so unpredictable. Does polygamy make them neurotic? I am still thinking about this novel, four days after I turned the last page. This African family refuses to leave me. I am thinking about the wives and how they became wives, I am thinking about the children and irreplaceable loss, I am thinking how complicated it is for girls growing up, I am thinking people may come from different continents but their stories remain the same. This is a wonderful book. Read it.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Brown Girl Reading

    I'm so glad I picked up this book, which I found researching books left and right. When I saw that it was a book on polygamy frankly I had no idea what to expect. My first thought was maybe something cliché. What I got was something much more interesting. It was a story I had a lot of trouble putting down although I was forced to because of work. Shoneyin who is more known for her poetry has debuted with a book which analyses polygamy, African tradition, and relationships between men and women w I'm so glad I picked up this book, which I found researching books left and right. When I saw that it was a book on polygamy frankly I had no idea what to expect. My first thought was maybe something cliché. What I got was something much more interesting. It was a story I had a lot of trouble putting down although I was forced to because of work. Shoneyin who is more known for her poetry has debuted with a book which analyses polygamy, African tradition, and relationships between men and women with many twists and turns. It's quite a feminists novel that explores the injustices that happen to women and to men. The writing style flows beautifully and Shoneyin really has a way with words. She always seems to be able to describe a feeling or an incident perfectly. It's a short book and can be read in one sitting if you're a fast reader. If you're interested in reading books by African writers this one could be a good start. I wanted to fgive this one 4,5 stars but you know we still can't do that yet. Happy reading....

  5. 4 out of 5

    Margitte

    Nigerian author, Lola Shoneyin brought a tender tale of compassion and love to the table with this book. Baba Segi was a good man. A bit unrefined, and uneducated, but his heart was as big as a baobab tree, and the fruits of his devotion as prolific as a mango tree's. Sweet and irresistible. It was his fourth wife, Bolanli, the graduate, who would spin his world in reverse when she failed to conceive a child. Was it not for Teacher, who encouraged him to take her to a real doctor, instead of his Nigerian author, Lola Shoneyin brought a tender tale of compassion and love to the table with this book. Baba Segi was a good man. A bit unrefined, and uneducated, but his heart was as big as a baobab tree, and the fruits of his devotion as prolific as a mango tree's. Sweet and irresistible. It was his fourth wife, Bolanli, the graduate, who would spin his world in reverse when she failed to conceive a child. Was it not for Teacher, who encouraged him to take her to a real doctor, instead of his usual shamans and natural healers, life could have remained much less complicated. Favoritism, envy, insecurities and past hurts, rush to the surface with Baba Segi right-bang in the center of the revolt. Iya Segi, Iya Tope, and Iya Femi, did not welcome Iya Bolanli into their family. Illiterate themselves, they decided to keep a secret from her in the hope that she would be forced to leave the family. However, fate determined otherwise, with the axles of their own little worlds tilting unexpectedly out of control. A warm, sad, tale of redemption and hope. A fast-moving, gripping tale. Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away by Christie Watson, was a similar kind of read, which brought tears and smiles alike to me. A wonderful read!

  6. 5 out of 5

    Leslie Reese

    “From my bedroom I heard my mother sobbing, which was strange because the prospect of death did not usually upset her. She said she wanted to go to heaven and kill my father all over again. She was desperate for me to be married.” Nigerian Baba Segi is the hardworking, uneducated husband to three wives: Iya Segi, Iya Tope, and Iya Femi; and father to their seven children. Their lives take place in Ayikara as the 20th century is drawing to a close. When Baba Segi takes a fourth wife, Bolanle, laye “From my bedroom I heard my mother sobbing, which was strange because the prospect of death did not usually upset her. She said she wanted to go to heaven and kill my father all over again. She was desperate for me to be married.” Nigerian Baba Segi is the hardworking, uneducated husband to three wives: Iya Segi, Iya Tope, and Iya Femi; and father to their seven children. Their lives take place in Ayikara as the 20th century is drawing to a close. When Baba Segi takes a fourth wife, Bolanle, layers of story are slowly peeled back. Bolanle’s university degree creates a tension between her and the other semi-literate wives; and her inability to become pregnant after two years of Baba Segi’s “pounding” is the predicament that sets emotions roiling and schemes in motion. This book really appealed to me for its lack of sentimentality. I enjoyed Shoneyin’s raw, boldly-descriptive storytelling style, and the cacophony of personalities she exposed. Her writing is sensitive, ironic, wicked, and bursting with parables. The story put me in the mind of the film “Mother of George,” as well as Amy Tan’s book The Joy Luck Club because it features women who---at first glance---you don’t suspect of having such complex histories and ways of fending for their lives.

  7. 5 out of 5

    BookOfCinz

    Men are so simple. They will believe everything. I took my time to read this book but I am so happy I finally got around to reading The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives . I thoroughly enjoyed this book, it was well written, paced perfectly and very addictive reading. Baba Segi is married to three women, the story opens when he carries home his fourth wife Bolanle who is educated and not generally the type of woman who would marry Baba Segi. With the fourth wife joining the household, her rece Men are so simple. They will believe everything. I took my time to read this book but I am so happy I finally got around to reading The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives . I thoroughly enjoyed this book, it was well written, paced perfectly and very addictive reading. Baba Segi is married to three women, the story opens when he carries home his fourth wife Bolanle who is educated and not generally the type of woman who would marry Baba Segi. With the fourth wife joining the household, her reception from the other wives is cold. Yes, Bolanle expected this, but she did not expect them to take it that far. Told from the perspective of the four wives and Baba Segi, you get an intimate look into the Segi household and what happens when the big secret comes to light! Shoneyin is a great storyteller and she gripped me with this story. I loved that she told it from the different POVs and how we are given tidbits along the way to keep you interested. I loved how you get the history of the wives before they end up with Baba Segi and what lead them to that fate. Yes! The book is hilarious in certain areas and sobering in others and I think the author did an exceptional job of toeing that line. If you are looking for a fast paced, interesting read, this is it. When you buy a guava in the marketplace, you cannot open every single one to check for rottenness. And where you find rottenness, you do not always throw away the guava. You bite around the rot and hope that it will quench your cravings." Isnt that right Baba Segi!!!

  8. 4 out of 5

    Raul Bimenyimana

    Read in one sitting, this is a fast-paced and very entertaining book. Bolanle, the fourth wife of a traditional polygamist patriarch, is the protagonist of this tale and it is her arrival, and its implications, into Baba Segi's household that sets the story moving. The writer shifts from the protagonist's narration to the other characters' to the third person quite seamlessly and the drama and humour in this book, expertly written. If I haven't discussed enough about the plot, it is because the m Read in one sitting, this is a fast-paced and very entertaining book. Bolanle, the fourth wife of a traditional polygamist patriarch, is the protagonist of this tale and it is her arrival, and its implications, into Baba Segi's household that sets the story moving. The writer shifts from the protagonist's narration to the other characters' to the third person quite seamlessly and the drama and humour in this book, expertly written. If I haven't discussed enough about the plot, it is because the mystery and secret in the story is a big enough element that a detailed explanation would spoil the story. This was a good story though, which I enjoyed very much.

  9. 5 out of 5

    mwana

    Me at 11%- "This had better end with them killing Baba segi and taking all his wealth for themselves" It doesn't. Dnf at pg. 100 Me at 11%- "This had better end with them killing Baba segi and taking all his wealth for themselves" It doesn't. Dnf at pg. 100

  10. 4 out of 5

    Bookishrealm

    WILD...yes that's exactly how I need to start this review. I don't know if I've quite read anything like this book before The Secret Lives of the Four Wives is fascinating in more ways than one. I'm treading very carefully in how I talk about this book because knowing as little as possible is probably the thrill of it all. Baba Segi is a polygamist with four wives. In the beginning, I was disgusted with him. He had some interesting and honestly tactless views of women and marriage. In fact, I was WILD...yes that's exactly how I need to start this review. I don't know if I've quite read anything like this book before The Secret Lives of the Four Wives is fascinating in more ways than one. I'm treading very carefully in how I talk about this book because knowing as little as possible is probably the thrill of it all. Baba Segi is a polygamist with four wives. In the beginning, I was disgusted with him. He had some interesting and honestly tactless views of women and marriage. In fact, I wasn't exactly sure how I was going to be able to make it through this book for Blackathon. However, when readers begin to get the narratives of Baba Segi's wives things get interesting and messy. Shoneyin does such an excellent job characterizing each of the wives and even Baba Segi. We not only get their current feelings, ideas, and motives while in their marriage and having to share a household with other women, but also their past lives that led them to Baba Segi. It is when Bolanle enters the household as the youngest and most educated wife that things really start to unravel and those past narratives become vital to how present events will take place. And when I tell ya'll that I didn't see the big reveal coming, I truly mean that I had no idea that 1) a big reveal was even going to happen and 2) that it was that huge of a reveal. One of the things that Shoneyin does really well is the way that she paces the novel. It's so fluid that when things begin to pick up you feel shocked at how past decisions led characters to their current position. There is also a sense of morally grey behavior that occurs as the novel progresses. I was disgusted with Baba Segi in the beginning and while he annoyed me in the second half of the book, seeing more of his back story made him read less "bad" and less as a man trying to utilize polygamy for his own selfish reasons. And any questions that I had regarding why these women would even want to be married to a man like Baba Segi were answered as I progressed more through the text. The Secret Lives of the Four Wives is a quick read especially once a reader is pulled into the story. As many reviewers have stated, it's both tragic and humorous and it will amaze you on how much Shoneyin is able to accomplish in such a short amount of pages. There are discussions about culture, the relationship of men and women in terms of how women are treated in a patriarchal society, desire, free will, familial expectations. It packs a punch in ways that are unexpected. And I know I've said it already, but that ending!!! I just can't seem to get over how everything unraveled. I haven't quite read a book like this and I appreciate Shoneyin for the story that she created surrounding some extremely interesting topics. She is truly a gifted storyteller.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Christine Zibas

    As a Western woman who believes in monogamy, I wasn’t sure this tale of Nigerian women in a polygamous marriage would have anything to say to me. Still, once I read the first paragraph, it was nearly impossible to put the tale of “The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives” down. Truly, author Lola Shoneyin has not just given us a glimpse inside the family life of Baba Segi and his four wives, but also a universal tale of secrets, compromises, and human interactions. The story centers on the dynamic o As a Western woman who believes in monogamy, I wasn’t sure this tale of Nigerian women in a polygamous marriage would have anything to say to me. Still, once I read the first paragraph, it was nearly impossible to put the tale of “The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives” down. Truly, author Lola Shoneyin has not just given us a glimpse inside the family life of Baba Segi and his four wives, but also a universal tale of secrets, compromises, and human interactions. The story centers on the dynamic of Babi Segi’s family. This patriarch supports three wives and seven children, but still he wants more. When a well-educated young woman drops by his business one day with a friend, his desire for a fourth wife is clear. But just what does Bolanle (the fourth wife) have to gain by entering this already crowded household? The answer to that question, along with the relationships among family members are the heart and soul of this powerful work. There’s intrigue and jealousy, motherly love and wandering eyes, superstition and college smarts. In short, this novel is amazingly insightful about relationships and the choices people make with their lives. Although the story centers on four women struggling within a single family, this could just have easily been four women working together in an office or four childhood friends who’ve grown up together. How the women interact, the decisions they make, the force of personality (or lack thereof)…these are the crux of the storyline. The book does offer those of us in the West new insights about life in Nigeria, but that isn’t the reason to read this book necessarily. This is a story of how people treat each other and themselves, whether in a relationship, in a family dynamic, or just carving out their life path. It offers plenty of food for thought, no matter which country you live in or how you define marriage. The characters who populate this story are women and men you know, and their feelings and decisions about life are those familiar to us all. Should we extend a helping hand or should we guard against the unknown? What happens when we experience a devastating experience, and how do we overcome it? How do our life experiences change the people we are? These topics and many more are the subject of Lola Shoneyin’s book, a book well worth reading!

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jessie

    The Secret Lives of Baba Seji’s Wives was just what I needed. Lola Shoneyin tells the satisfying story of one flatulent man, his four wives, and the secret that three share and one is stumbling towards revealing. I was here for the soap opera drama and humour, which this book had in spades, but even more, i loved how the story circled back to the stories of each wife, and the hard choices that each made to land in this marriage. I appreciated the diversity of backgrounds that still left these wo The Secret Lives of Baba Seji’s Wives was just what I needed. Lola Shoneyin tells the satisfying story of one flatulent man, his four wives, and the secret that three share and one is stumbling towards revealing. I was here for the soap opera drama and humour, which this book had in spades, but even more, i loved how the story circled back to the stories of each wife, and the hard choices that each made to land in this marriage. I appreciated the diversity of backgrounds that still left these women without choices of their own, and how despite the multitude of places they came from, how their worlds were shrunk down to one small house and the endless competition to keep oneself and one’s children of central importance to the patriarch. The depiction of Baba Seji as the grossest dude in all the land really sealed the deal for me, I was pissed that these women, who I admired individually for different characteristics, tenacity, work ethic, misplaced shame, a gentle spirit, felt gratitude to be in such a stifling and unappealing compromise of a partnership. This story read as a parable of sorts, as expected, and it delivered the satisfaction of a story that wrapped itself up and gave the gift of closure.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Christina

    The narration of this novel shifts from third person point of view to the first person point of view of Bolanle to the first person point of view of Iya Tope to third person to first person. Sound confusing? It was. Other than marriage, there really wasn’t much stringing these characters and their narratives together. The voices and characters of Baba Segi and the first three wives left much to be desired. Part of my frustration with the narration stemmed from the fact that their was nothing to The narration of this novel shifts from third person point of view to the first person point of view of Bolanle to the first person point of view of Iya Tope to third person to first person. Sound confusing? It was. Other than marriage, there really wasn’t much stringing these characters and their narratives together. The voices and characters of Baba Segi and the first three wives left much to be desired. Part of my frustration with the narration stemmed from the fact that their was nothing to make the three other women stand out from one another. There were several chapters where I could not tell who was narrating until the end of the chapter or the character I thought was narrating was not. The only woman who stood out was Bolanle, and I think the story would have worked better had she been the sole narrator. Read more on my blog.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Tara Chevrestt

    Throughout the first quarter of this novel, I found myself laughing my butt off. Baba Segi is one of the most ignorant men to walk the face of this earth (in fiction anyway.) Sure, men see him as successful because after all, he is able to afford four wives and 7 children and four comfortable armchairs, but this man is not only terribly stupid at times but he also vomits on himself when he gets upset and um, at one point, he poops his pants. So... by the time I got to the part where the polygami Throughout the first quarter of this novel, I found myself laughing my butt off. Baba Segi is one of the most ignorant men to walk the face of this earth (in fiction anyway.) Sure, men see him as successful because after all, he is able to afford four wives and 7 children and four comfortable armchairs, but this man is not only terribly stupid at times but he also vomits on himself when he gets upset and um, at one point, he poops his pants. So... by the time I got to the part where the polygamist pooped his pants, I was checking the spine and the back of this book to see if it was branded humor because that wasn't what I expected. However, when Baba attempted to strangle wife number four, I decided this was most def not funny. From that point on, the book was downhill. Baba is a jerk and his wives are conniving, evil wenches, the exception being wife number four, Bolanle. Bolanle is just a weak woman who thinks that because something bad happened to her at 15, she is doing the right thing by throwing away a college degree to marry a fat old man who poops and vomits and has three other equally ignorant and repulsive wives. I failed to ever see her reasoning in marrying this man. Well, Bolanle is not conceiving a child (and this is why there is only four armchairs.. she hasn't earned her own chair yet), despite Baba's many attempts so off to the hospital they go and boy, this opens a can of worms. I hated the entire middle. The wives all gripe and bellyache and hate each other. Even Bolanle's mother does nothing but gripe and bellyache about her daughters. The ending was pretty decent tho, saving this from becoming a one star read. The secret of Baba's wives, I seen coming, but there was a surprise issue involving one of the daughters. I didn't see that coming and I appreciated the moral involved in it, about hate and hateful actions. They can come back on you.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Henry Ozogula

    Lola Shoneyin's book is one of the most successful and most widely read, received in African literary history (never mind African women's literature). This of course indicates that this work is also widely read in the western world. Indeed some observers sneer at facts like this, claiming that such an author is only largely read by "detached whites' overseas", but this is absurd, as tens of thousands of perceptive African readers abound all over the western world anyway. Shoneyin is a superb wri Lola Shoneyin's book is one of the most successful and most widely read, received in African literary history (never mind African women's literature). This of course indicates that this work is also widely read in the western world. Indeed some observers sneer at facts like this, claiming that such an author is only largely read by "detached whites' overseas", but this is absurd, as tens of thousands of perceptive African readers abound all over the western world anyway. Shoneyin is a superb writer, often even giving the impression of a tongue in cheek, non-conformist. This book is about polygamy, African polygamy, which might remind one of the late Isidore Okpewho's early classic, The Victims. Here, we have an irresistible mixture of societal intrigue, chicanery, blackmail, gossip and sparkling conversations, as we latch onto the inner workings/travails of a medley of women in particular. Many a modern African man will express their reservations, and even the "impossibility" of coping with just one woman at home (monogamy), as they claim that many modern women in turning their man into a "docile imbecile" - hence younger ones can only grasp at the effrontery of Baba Segi (the polygamist here) who marries 3, 4 women and somehow keeps them in tow, including whenever he deigns to invite any of the wives to share his bed! Here we vividly experience the gamut of what such women (wives) go through - their daily foibles and experience, the horrors of (child) barrenness, intense, sly competition among women and siblings... The author pulls it all off magnificently.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Tamara Agha-Jaffar

    Set in Nigeria, The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives by Lola Shoneyin tells the story of Baba Segi, a proud, affluent, corpulent, and flatulent man with four wives and seven children. Baba Segi’s fourth wife, Bolanle, is the youngest of his wives and the only one among them who is literate and a university graduate. Bolanle’s failure to conceive prompts Baba Segi to take her to the doctor, a visit which leads to unintended consequences. Baba Segi’s world is shattered when he learns the secrets Set in Nigeria, The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives by Lola Shoneyin tells the story of Baba Segi, a proud, affluent, corpulent, and flatulent man with four wives and seven children. Baba Segi’s fourth wife, Bolanle, is the youngest of his wives and the only one among them who is literate and a university graduate. Bolanle’s failure to conceive prompts Baba Segi to take her to the doctor, a visit which leads to unintended consequences. Baba Segi’s world is shattered when he learns the secrets his three wives have harbored for many years. The narrative unfolds by alternating between third-person and first-person voices primarily of Baba Segi’s wives. Each wife reveals her back story, explaining how and why she married Baba Segi and what led her to deceive him. Baba Segi’s behavior is typical of a patriarch. He views wives and children as vehicles to elevate his social status. He expects their complete obeisance. They oblige him by maintaining the façade that he is in control. They fuss over him, pamper him, and prop his ego. Meanwhile, Baba Segi is oblivious to the plotting and scheming and subterfuge occurring right under his nose. Bolanle is the only wife who does not partake in the subterfuge. And for that she incurs the jealousy and wrath of the other wives who scheme against her. In a quick and easy read, Shoneyin explores the intricate dynamics of a polygamous family. There is jealousy, rivalry, and feuding as each wife competes for the attention of Baba Segi. The driving force behind the back-stabbing, lies, and cowardice of Baba Segi’s first three wives is their desperate need for economic security. Their back stories reveal how they were mistreated, sexually exploited, assaulted, denied opportunities, and cheated of their inheritance. They cling to Baba Segi as their savior, tolerating his bodily emanations and crude sexual fumblings because their options for economic stability are severely limited. Lola Shoneyin’s style is explicit and direct, laced with occasional humor. Her writing is grounded in an unabashed look at reality. She does not shy away from a frank description of the noises, sounds, and smells emanating from Baba Segi’s body, or his pounding heft as he rotates between wives on successive nights. Insects and rodents bask in the food and home. Sexuality is on full display on street corners and shady streets. But in spite of the squalid atmosphere, Shoneyin’s tone throughout is gentle and non-judgmental. She even manages to generate sympathy for the wives through their back stories. And Baba Segi, for all his faults, delusions, and deep entrenchment in the traditions of his social environment, is a generous man at heart. Through her exploration of the dynamics within a polygamous family, Shoneyin conveys a salient truism that cuts across cultures. Women who turn against other women and ridicule their accomplishments frequently do so because they are in competition to secure a mate who can fulfill the role of economic provider. This is especially true in cultures where women have been denied access to educational opportunities. Shoneyin contextualizes the social, cultural, and economic environment of co-wives with empathy. It is not coincidental that Bolanle’s generosity of spirit toward her co-wives and their children is directly linked to her potential for economic autonomy afforded by her university education. Highly recommended. My book reviews are also available at www.tamaraaghajaffar.com

  17. 5 out of 5

    Beverly

    This is the first novel by Lola Shoneyin .I was interested in reading this book because the author has published poetry in the past and in my experience this actually prepares writers for telling their stories in a succient manner, and her father-in-law is Wole Soyinka, so I figured she has access to good literary resources to make sure that she wrote a worthy book. But, I did think that initial storyline sounded a little predictable - a man who has three wives takes an educated fourth wife that This is the first novel by Lola Shoneyin .I was interested in reading this book because the author has published poetry in the past and in my experience this actually prepares writers for telling their stories in a succient manner, and her father-in-law is Wole Soyinka, so I figured she has access to good literary resources to make sure that she wrote a worthy book. But, I did think that initial storyline sounded a little predictable - a man who has three wives takes an educated fourth wife that is not well accepted. But I was so wrong as the story was everything but predictable. The husband and each of the wives has a turn in telling their story - the story is in the present and also goes back in time to help give the full picture but you are never confused on who is talking and if you are in the present or past. Each character is fully developed and there were many unexpected twists and turns to this story that I could not put the book down until the end. It shows the clash of the old vs the new culture and at the end you will start to wonder what is the old tradition v the new one. This does not read like a debut novel but like a more mature writer.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Read By RodKelly

    This is a wonderful novel filled with strong, well-developed characters. The prose is so sharp and energized, and the plot is straightforward and tightly constructed.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Titilayo

    reading this book was like listening to my father tells anecdotes about growing up in elemosho compound. this novel (as well as my dad’s stories) has that "we walked barefoot up a hill six miles in snow every day to get to school after feeding the cows, drawing water from the well, and chopping a ton of wood" tone; but, it is decidedly nigerian. the story was elegant. the purpose driven lives, greed, kinship, jealousy, boldness, malice, naiveté, fear, hypocrisy, and religiosity magnify the symbi reading this book was like listening to my father tells anecdotes about growing up in elemosho compound. this novel (as well as my dad’s stories) has that "we walked barefoot up a hill six miles in snow every day to get to school after feeding the cows, drawing water from the well, and chopping a ton of wood" tone; but, it is decidedly nigerian. the story was elegant. the purpose driven lives, greed, kinship, jealousy, boldness, malice, naiveté, fear, hypocrisy, and religiosity magnify the symbiotic relationship between tradition and modernity. this story came from a brilliant mind. . the wives are complex beings with demons and angels standing in the shadow of their footsteps. they are vastly different people thrust together by marriage to simple man. they negotiate patriarchy like osun telling the village she has learned the secrets of divination from orunmila \bobby fisher facing his russian nemesis. his ignorance is innocent and blinding. he allows himself to be cockled and victimized by arrogance. his tale could be an allegory for british colonialism. (someone should write a dissertation about this). he bought four strangers into his home to create a family. the illusion of cohesion permeates deeper than the surface tension of sharing resources and attention. think achebe meets faulkner. Then forget everything you know and read this book three times…

  20. 4 out of 5

    Samir Rawas Sarayji

    A compelling look at the lives of four women married to the same man and living under one roof. Indeed, the power of the story is about the 'secrets' of these wives, namely their individual pasts, and on how these secrets will unravel to devastating effects. There's a lot to like in this fast novel, from cultural exposition to good writing, Shoneyin is a writer I would like to read more of. What I didn't like were the different narrators of each chapter with either first person POV or third pers A compelling look at the lives of four women married to the same man and living under one roof. Indeed, the power of the story is about the 'secrets' of these wives, namely their individual pasts, and on how these secrets will unravel to devastating effects. There's a lot to like in this fast novel, from cultural exposition to good writing, Shoneyin is a writer I would like to read more of. What I didn't like were the different narrators of each chapter with either first person POV or third person POV. I felt the novel would have been stronger told either only from Bolanle’s perspective or from a third-person limited narrator. The first person perspective of each of the wives to narrate their backstory detracted from the overall strength. Still, Shoneyin pulled it off as best as one could, so kudos.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Sterlingcindysu

    Thanks to William Morrow for a copy! Poor Baba Segi. I always feel sorry for men who have to handle alot of women in their lives and he's no exception. The women aren't portrayed as warm, loving, caring people. Baba=father. His fourth wife is someone who went to college, and just like Barb in Big Love, you wonder why an educated woman would agree to that. She actually (unknowingly) undoes the secrets of the other wives, yet it's because they don't trust her that she undoes them. Unusual setting, Thanks to William Morrow for a copy! Poor Baba Segi. I always feel sorry for men who have to handle alot of women in their lives and he's no exception. The women aren't portrayed as warm, loving, caring people. Baba=father. His fourth wife is someone who went to college, and just like Barb in Big Love, you wonder why an educated woman would agree to that. She actually (unknowingly) undoes the secrets of the other wives, yet it's because they don't trust her that she undoes them. Unusual setting, with enough explanation of customs so you know what's going on. I'm glad there was a family tree at the beginning to keep the children and mothers straight. Looking forward to more by Shoneyin.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Amyn

    What a fantastic storyteller!

  23. 5 out of 5

    Oyinda

    Title: The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives Author: Lola Shoneyin Rating: 5 👭🏾 The first time I read this book was for a Literature class in 200 Level. While I remember it being a very good book, I must have breezed through it because a lot of things about this book flew over my head, and I’m glad I reread it because I now see it in a clear and beautiful new light. This book has so much depth and beauty, and everyone definitely needs to read it. I buddyread it with @itan.ile on Instagram, and I rea Title: The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives Author: Lola Shoneyin Rating: 5 👭🏾 The first time I read this book was for a Literature class in 200 Level. While I remember it being a very good book, I must have breezed through it because a lot of things about this book flew over my head, and I’m glad I reread it because I now see it in a clear and beautiful new light. This book has so much depth and beauty, and everyone definitely needs to read it. I buddyread it with @itan.ile on Instagram, and I really enjoyed the conversations we had about the book. 👭🏾 Focusing on Baba Segi and his four wives – Iya Segi, Iya Tope, Iya Femi, and Bolanle, Lola Shoneyin takes us on a wild ride. Full of secrets, humor, malice, and sketchy pasts, there’s so much to love about this book. The writing style, the characterization, the themes discussed, and the psinted portrait of a Nigerian polygamous home are some of my favorite things about the book. Shoneyin explored a wide range of themes in this book, including but not limited to infertility and barrenness, polygamy, rape and sexual abuse, queerness, and bad parenting. 👭🏾 In the Alao household, Baba Segi reigns supreme, and his first 3 wives are enjoying their little ecosystem before the arrival of Bolanle, the educated fourth wives. For reasons best known to them, they believe that Bolanle’s arrival will turn their existence in Baba Segi’s household upside down. There were so many instances of the wives doing mean-spirited and downright evil things to Bolanle in a bid to get her to leave their home. I love that the author did not just stop here with the first 3 wives. Apart from painting them as wicked senior wives, she rounded them out as women with pasts and their own secrets and histories. At the end, you can’t help but feel different feelings – both warm and cold – towards them, as opposed to just disliking them if Shoneyin hadn’t developed them fully. 👭🏾 The author also explored different family settings in the book apart from Baba Segi’s family, through the past of the other wives. We see different parents and how their decisions and fates affected the futures of their daughters. 👭🏾 This was a really great book, and I wholeheartedly recommend it to everyone.

  24. 4 out of 5

    K.J. Charles

    I somehow had the idea this was basically going to be comic or at least triumph-of-human-spirit in some way. It was not. JFC that was a savage book. It isn't because of Baba Segi either. He's a gross and grossly sexist polygamist, squatting in his position of patriarchal privilege without question, but in fact he's harmed by the cultural milieu like everyone else, and in a weird way his house is a haven for the four horrendously abused (sexually, physically or emotionally) women he marries. He l I somehow had the idea this was basically going to be comic or at least triumph-of-human-spirit in some way. It was not. JFC that was a savage book. It isn't because of Baba Segi either. He's a gross and grossly sexist polygamist, squatting in his position of patriarchal privilege without question, but in fact he's harmed by the cultural milieu like everyone else, and in a weird way his house is a haven for the four horrendously abused (sexually, physically or emotionally) women he marries. He loves his kids, he loves his wives (though without ever really considering them as equal humans with rights), he isn't habitually violent; this is a pretty damn low bar for 'decent human being' but in this book it's about as good as it gets. The backstory of each wife is a litany of the awful ways people treat each other and the damage done by poverty, patriarchy, religion, greed; the main story is honestly horrifying in its cruelty. It is darkly funny, and brilliantly written in a way that brings all the voices of the story through, and it is unquestionably an excellent book. I suppose you could see the ending as partially happy for Bolanle, recovering from trauma, and the basically kind if useless Iya Tope, but the overwhelming sense I had was of Larkin's sentiment. "Man hands on misery to man / it deepens like a coastal shelf. / Get out as quickly as you can / and don't have any kids yourself."

  25. 5 out of 5

    Sheri

    This book was just fun. Polygamy is not really my thing, but Shoneyin does a great job representing the ways in which the subservient women hold and display power both among themselves and to their husband. For the most part it was funny, but ultimately things got serious: death, rape and betrayal. In the end it was not really a positive picture for the women. I liked the switch in point of view. The first few chapters are third person and give the reader an overall sense of the family. Then Shon This book was just fun. Polygamy is not really my thing, but Shoneyin does a great job representing the ways in which the subservient women hold and display power both among themselves and to their husband. For the most part it was funny, but ultimately things got serious: death, rape and betrayal. In the end it was not really a positive picture for the women. I liked the switch in point of view. The first few chapters are third person and give the reader an overall sense of the family. Then Shoneyin switches and alternates between the wives for the rest of the book. She does a great job giving the reader insight into each of these women's histories and explains their current position. Iya Segi is the real leader of the family: "They know that I am the true provider. My husband only thinks he controls this household and I left him believe that he does. I want him to believe he does but I am the one who keeps this household together." until she is caught trying to poison Bolanle and ends up killing her own daughter. Unlike the evil and vengeful Iya Femi, Iya Segi is really just trying to protect her position in the world. She is the one that loses the most and falls the farthest. Overall it was an interesting and entertaining read. Shoneyin has some great commentary about the power relationship between men and women.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Ify

    I really enjoyed reading this! It's been on my TBR list for years. Although this novel is imperfect (there were some scenes and dialogue that I couldn't connect with), I found it to be a refreshing read. I really enjoyed reading this! It's been on my TBR list for years. Although this novel is imperfect (there were some scenes and dialogue that I couldn't connect with), I found it to be a refreshing read.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Debalina

    This is the kind of a book that I have always dreaded. They are to a large extent a true depiction, and many truths hurt. This book is about the household of Baba Segi (father of Segi, his first born) and his household consisting of his four wives and their children. The fourth wife is, as it would seem to the household, an unnecessary novelty - a graduate( :O ). Educated and independent and young. How will that determine the future of the household? The book was marketed with and indeed has a s This is the kind of a book that I have always dreaded. They are to a large extent a true depiction, and many truths hurt. This book is about the household of Baba Segi (father of Segi, his first born) and his household consisting of his four wives and their children. The fourth wife is, as it would seem to the household, an unnecessary novelty - a graduate( :O ). Educated and independent and young. How will that determine the future of the household? The book was marketed with and indeed has a secret, but what made me read was the picture of the society that was painted, and very deftly so too, but not the plot to be exact. The book starts with a traditional and seemingly perfect and happy Nigerian family set a bit behind its new educated class. The way established patriarchal ways of family establishment treat women, first makes me pucker my brow and nose in disgust; this creates a sense of wonder for this uniformity of horrificness across continents and oceans for women, and finally the partial benevolence emanating from the patriarch Baba Segi and his family for each other confuses my disgust. Why it is the way it is with Baba Segi, Bolane and his other wives? Baba Segi, mind you, might be sexist but is not a misogynist. He is a good outcome of a society which has certain different parameters of judgement, so don't you hurry your judgement. The story goes on and I realise a thing about myself. I never thought that I would find the use of poop humour intelligent! Yes, I just wrote it. Having written it, in this story this is a good use of humour to bring a sense of normalisation, which exists if you are living this life as many people perhaps still do, into these situations which will make human rights' carers go hoarse. Humour in sombre and deeply distressing situations saves the day. It doesn't make you want to kill yourself in despair, or engage in a heated debate but start a conversation from a place which is comfortable(for some reason), even enjoyable for the apt use of comedy and makes you think before jumping into a conclusion you already know exists. It is my first fiction which closely followed the lives of these classes of African women whose sense of normalcy and ours clash like a battle of titans. They are not "strong" women, some may argue but are they not? Why Iya Segi, Iya Femi, Iya Tope and Bolanle are who they are? Are they justified? Are they to be pitied, or feared? Or should we just marvel at the way they tried to hold on to life and the carefully elaborate plans they make to conquer it. Iya Segi's wisdom- is it just wisdom, or is it her cunning and deprived self finding a way out, and quenching her thirst through ambition? Why shouldn't she be who she is? She is ambitious, in control, manipulative but is the matriarch of the household. You dislike her first and then you somewhere starts understanding and even rooting for her almost sometimes. Iya Femi- her story tells you the origin of the poison in her, and is it that unjustified? It is evil and dangerous at one side, but when you look the other way, don't you feel pity for her? She had once a promising life ahead, perhaps if life had given her a chance she would become someone like Bolanle, but then she lost all. She found a way out. Does she hate Bolanle also because she wanted to be an image of what now scares her current life's stability and existence the most? Iya Tope- you are always rooting for her, and if you believe in god, you would perhaps pray for her. And Bolanle. She understood these women. She could decipher the root of their hatred, she pities them while she need as much sympathy and empathy as all the others. She is kind with horrors of her own. Why was this life her choice? And how long will she be able to hold onto it? I was waiting. Their stories were unfolding, and I was waiting for Bolanle to snap. We sometimes detest the "family politics", which we many-a-times identify as a soap opera like drama. But this story, and many others like this makes me wonder. That drama is ever present everywhere. Sometimes it transforms itself into something we know as world politics. Our own mistakes, conditions, others' sometimes unmeant actions make these stories and claim lives. Whose fault is it? Then something happens, something snaps. The "unnaturality" of Bolanle, the insecurity of people whose own lives have not been well drawn arcs of justice but kind enough to let them build an almost comfortable and happy world out of it, make something happen. Segi almost died. Whose fault is it? Mama Segi's? Mama Femi's? Yes, they deserve punishment. But why they thought what they thought? Why they acted the way they acted? I personally am sometimes so obsessed with justice, and yes it is needed, but how just will be a sentence on these women? Would it respect the story and the life that lead to its pronouncement? And how promising or dangerous will be a pardon? As the chapters go on, I wonder if this is a book or a soap-opera? You know the twists are coming and you still enjoy them. A known story which you relish for its drama discerning into the folds of human character in designed situations. They seem similar, but are not that much. I have hated those soap-operas all my life, but I am relishing this book and smacking my lips. Have I gone the way of that insane old lady that all predicted me to be one day!? :( I had thought I would be an aantel-er version of the old lady. Seems not. The characters seem to come to a well-predicted cliff, and to move ahead, they paid an intolerably sad and heavy price. But then they took their courses. Only Bolanle and Akin gave me hope at the end, the other endings seemed befitting to the story arcs, but... you wonder This was a humorous book and a moving drama which is also very sad and challenging if you take human rights seriously. The good thing is that it doesn't blame anyone, but gives an impartial observation with kindness and amusement on what somewhere were the tragedies of life. I definitely recommend this book. I will give it 4.4 stars(so 4 on goodreads and not 5). But do read it. It is a bit different. There is supposed to be a play about this too. I hope I get to watch that someday. Happy reading! :) For more reviews visit: https://dbthetablesareturned.blogspot...

  28. 5 out of 5

    Nwabisa Mbisholo

    Because the book was written from multiple perspectives, it was a bit difficult to follow and understand at times but it made up for that by having an interesing and compelling plot. Lola Shoneyin managed to tell a story about women who are disenfranchised without making them complete victims and that's something I haven't seen in a while. The fact that these women were under Baba Segi's rule ( in a clearly patriachal society) but managed to conceal a secret that in and of itself is supposed to Because the book was written from multiple perspectives, it was a bit difficult to follow and understand at times but it made up for that by having an interesing and compelling plot. Lola Shoneyin managed to tell a story about women who are disenfranchised without making them complete victims and that's something I haven't seen in a while. The fact that these women were under Baba Segi's rule ( in a clearly patriachal society) but managed to conceal a secret that in and of itself is supposed to represent his power, was pleasurable to read. This book was really entertaining !

  29. 4 out of 5

    Friederike Knabe

    Ishola Alao, known as Baba Segi, has a problem that upsets his stomach and general well-being. After two years of trying, his fourth wife still does not show any signs of being pregnant. He already has a stable of kids with his other wives, but what is the use of another marriage if it doesn't give him more offspring? Furthermore, his young wife, "the graduate", has been creating unease and tension between his other wives. It is really beyond him to understand what the reason could be, given tha Ishola Alao, known as Baba Segi, has a problem that upsets his stomach and general well-being. After two years of trying, his fourth wife still does not show any signs of being pregnant. He already has a stable of kids with his other wives, but what is the use of another marriage if it doesn't give him more offspring? Furthermore, his young wife, "the graduate", has been creating unease and tension between his other wives. It is really beyond him to understand what the reason could be, given that he is sharing his favours equally among the women. Something has to be done about his "barren" wife and all else will sort itself out after that. Or does it? Nigerian author Lola Shoneyin was a well-known poet and short story writer by the time her debut novel, The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives, was published in 2009. It immediately won several awards and was also long listed for the 2011 Orange Prize. As the title and my short introduction suggests, the novel takes an intimate look at a life in a polygamous family in modern Nigeria. Drawing on her own in-depth knowledge of the issues, Shoneyin writes with great confidence making this novel a very engaging and authentic read. She harmoniously combines humour and irony with empathy and sensitivity in her vivid depiction of the central characters and the circumstances they find themselves in. The reader is taken inside the complicated day-to-day of such living arrangements and, quite naturally, we also gain insights into the very difficult underlying societal issues of traditional gender relations and economic inequalities. Bolanle, the young educated fourth wife is the central figure of this fast moving and highly absorbing tale: her introduction into the household sets off a series of events and revelations that have repercussions nobody could have anticipated. What is predictable is that her arrival does not go down well with the three established wives and mothers of Baba Segi's children. Iya Segi, the "mother of the household" has had until now a very good handle on everything and managed the second wife, Iya Tope, and the third, Iya Femi pretty well (each named after her first-born child). Now with the intruder among them jealousy, insecurities, favouritism and disruption of their established group dynamics take over the daily life. One expresses what the three feel: These educated types have thin skins; they are like pigeons. If we poke her with a stick, she will fly away and leave our home in peace. On her side, Bolanle does not really understand the inner workings of the household and adds to the difficulties. Rather than telling the story from one - external – perspective, Shoneyin gives each protagonist a distinct voice to tell her/his own backstory and in other chapters reveal their respective views on the unfolding dramatic events in the household. As readers we can appreciate their very different upbringing and circumstances that led them to marry into Baba Segi's household. We can even develop some empathy with Baba Segi himself, a man whose life has not been easy and has bound him deeply to the traditions of his social environment. All in all a very satisfying read: lively, personal and also educational in giving the reader a glimpse into the challenges faced by societies developing from tradition to modern, from rural to urban life.

  30. 5 out of 5

    B.

    I was given an ARC of this novel by the publisher, William Morrow, an imprint of Harper Collins. The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives takes place in present day Nigeria and tells the story of Baba Segi and his four wives and seven children. Much of the novel is narrated by Bolanle, the last wife. Her entrance into the family causes turmoil above and beyond the usual upheaval that occurs when a new wife is taken, as it exposes a secret that will change the family forever. While the novel is set in I was given an ARC of this novel by the publisher, William Morrow, an imprint of Harper Collins. The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives takes place in present day Nigeria and tells the story of Baba Segi and his four wives and seven children. Much of the novel is narrated by Bolanle, the last wife. Her entrance into the family causes turmoil above and beyond the usual upheaval that occurs when a new wife is taken, as it exposes a secret that will change the family forever. While the novel is set in an unfamiliar world, both geographically and culturally, the author makes you feel as though you know these people because the stories they live out and the emotions they display are common to people the world over. And because each of the women has a fully developed back-story that explains how they came to participate in the marriage, the reader easily understands why they act the way they do. Apart from the fact that the characters seem to jump off the page, the machinations of the family are fascinating. In particular, the first wife, Iya Segi, is wickedly Machiavellian in her running of the household, although her attempt to insure her place of superiority amongst the wives ultimately ends in tragedy for her. In addition to the richly drawn characters, the author spins a gripping story that kept my attention throughout until the poignant ending. When I finished this book, I felt as though I were returning from a far-off world and while I’m glad to be home, I thoroughly enjoyed the journey.

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