Skip to main content


June 29, 2010


Posted by Dana

In today's guest post, African-born poet and author Lola Shoneyin talks about her fiction debut, THE SECRET LIVES OF BABI SEGI’S WIVES.  The book is an eye-opening novel of polygamy in modern-day Nigeria and Lola shares her views here about the importance of women's friendships and how survival and distrust can deprive women of this vital support.

secretlives.jpgBecause I come from a family of five boys, I didn’t know how to be a woman until very late. In fact, I’m still learning. I went to an all boys boarding school when I was six years old. No, my parents didn’t try to pass me off as a boy (even though they would probably have succeeded); the school had decided to go co-ed and my parents were the first enthusiastic takers. For over a year, I, along with the headmaster’s daughter lived with over a hundred boys.

In the same way that I, a Nigerian, believed I was identical in complexion to the Scottish children in my school, I also managed to convince myself that I was a boy. I wore my hair short, I walked like a boy, ate like a boy and sat like a boy. My mum says I still do by the way, even after four children.

I returned to Nigeria, at eleven, and for the first time started to develop real friendships with other girls. I must admit I was pretty intimidated at first. It took me quite a few years to buy into the glossy lips and shoulder pads but I was won over, in the end.

It wasn’t until I got to university in 1990 that I met Moji, my best friend. I never thought I could have a female best friend but Moji showed me what fascinating creatures girls are, how they listen patiently to your family problems, without judging you, because they can’t wait to tell you theirs, how they sit next to you in silence because they know you are in the middle of a significant thought.

But why am I talking about women and friendships? Well, two reasons. The first is that in my novel, The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives, the four women you will meet do not enjoy friendship. Not because they don’t want to but because polygamy forces you into unhealthy, sometimes devastating competiveness.

With four women living in the same home, you think shopping together and eating together, don’t you? Not so in this home where closeness is nothing but a ploy to empower at the expense of another, where each woman is contained in their own little world where deception and deviousness determine their survival. In Nigeria, many of the women who live in these circumstances unfortunately cannot read or write. This is unfortunate because books can teach us so much about love and tolerance.

The second reason is that I am glad to see book clubs in springing up in Nigeria, arenas where women can enjoy fellowship with one another and talk lovingly about books, thankful for the gift of literacy. I imagine that in book clubs, the only competition is how enthusiastically you can gush about the latest book you’ve read.

As my novel is launched in the US, the world capital of book clubs, I hope that those who read this novel will not only be grateful for what they have but muster hope for those who circumstances force them into living other lives, secret lives.

-- Lola Shoneyin, Author

Check out Lola's video to learn more about the book!