Posted by: Lisa Hill | September 1, 2021

His Only Wife, by Peace Adzo Medie

The cover of my edition of His Only Wife by Ghanaian author Peace Adzo Medie includes comments from Wayetu Moore that it’s ‘hilarious, a gem of a debut’ and from Kirkus Reviews that it’s ‘a Crazy Rich Asians for West Africa, with a healthy splash of feminism.’  Cosmopolitan says it’s ‘a fierce and funny study of modern womanhood within Ghanaian culture’.  I was in the mood for a book that was ‘hilarious’, but TBH while there were some droll moments, I finished His Only Wife feeling more saddened than amused.  Here we are in the 21st century yet — if this book represents things as they are — then even in sophisticated modern cities in Ghana, women are still made miserable by African polygamous patriarchy, and senior women in extended families are complicit in perpetuating it.

This is the blurb:

“Elikem married me in absentia; he did not come to our wedding.”

Afi Tekple is a young seamstress whose life is narrowing rapidly. She lives in a small town in Ghana with her widowed mother, spending much of her time in her uncle Pious’s house with his many wives and children. Then one day she is offered a life-changing opportunity—a proposal of marriage from the wealthy family of Elikem Ganyo, a man she doesn’t truly know. She acquiesces, but soon realizes that Elikem is not quite the catch he seemed. He sends a stand-in to his own wedding, and only weeks after Afi is married and installed in a plush apartment in the capital city of Accra does she meet her new husband. It turns out that he is in love with another woman, whom his family disapproves of; Afi is supposed to win him back on their behalf. But it is Accra that eventually wins Afi’s heart and gives her a life of independence that she never could have imagined for herself.

A brilliant scholar and a fierce advocate for women’s rights, author Peace Adzo Medie infuses her debut novel with intelligence and humour. For readers of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Candice Carty-Williams, His Only Wife is the story of an indomitable and relatable heroine that illuminates what it means to be a woman in a rapidly changing world.

The first part of the book shows Afi bewildered but dutiful.  Her mother has agreed to Aunty’s demand that Afi be stitched up in an arranged marriage which is intended to separate the groom from an existing relationship which doesn’t meet with Aunty’s approval.  The power relationship here is an important element in the story: Aunty is wealthy and Afi’s widowed mother is financially dependent on her.  Her husband was over-generous to the extended family who then failed to help at all when he died and left his wife and daughter Afi penniless.  Afi’s arranged marriage is intended to restore their place in society and make them financially secure.

So Afi leaves her mother and her friends in Ho for life in the capital, Accra. Eli and his family have multiple properties, but Afi is marooned not in his house but in an apartment block.  He doesn’t come to see her for weeks, and gorgeous though the apartment is, once her mother goes home to Ho, Afi is lonely and anxious.  Her mother’s hopes and Aunty’s expectations weigh heavily on her.  It is her duty to make Eli happy so that he will eject Muna and the child Ivy so that she can move into what will be the marital home.   As Eli’s absence lengthens, Afi gets bored and wants to resume her career in dress design.  Contrary to the blurb, she is not just a seamstress, she is a dress designer, with ambitions to open her own boutique.  (Fashion is a Big Deal in Ghana.)

Eventually Eli turns up, and he turns out to be, a-hem, very desirable and more than capable between the sheets.  Afi falls in love with him, but he still regularly disappears ‘on business’ and she still can’t voice her anxieties about her ambiguous situation.  Everything she has heard about Muna is horrible, so why does Eli persist with her?  What happens to this very luxurious lifestyle if Aunty loses patience with Afi’s failure to displace The Other Woman?

Well, as any feminist can see, everything is wrong about this Cinderella story and eventually Afi has had enough.  As she grows in confidence, aided and abetted by two independent-minded young women mentors, she takes advantage of the opportunities that Eli’s money brings so that the time comes when she has a choice about her own future.

The moral of this story for all young women everywhere is, don’t rely on Prince Charming.  If he comes along, and behaves well, that’s nice, but don’t count on it.  Don’t let your feelings of self-worth or your future security depend on some man. Instead

  • take advantage of education so that you can support yourself in work that you enjoy;
  • have your own bank accounts in your own name;
  • invest in things that last (Afi sells high-end fashion to clients, but her own wardrobe is modest);
  • aim to have your own home that you can live in if need be; and
  • surround yourself with other young women whose feet are on the ground!

Author: Peace Adzo Medie
Title: His Only Wife
Publisher: One World, 2020
ISBN: 9780861540723, pbk., 278 pages
Source: personal library, purchased from Benn’s Books $29.99


Responses

  1. Amen to your final five points.

    Like

    • And one more of my own: don’t change your name.
      Women makes themselves untraceable when they do this.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. It doesn’t sound all that hilarious to me either. Interesting how often book blurbs vary from the actual novel these days. I see it so often. Still sounds interesting.🐧🍪 Sending you a biscuit.🤠

    Like

    • Ah, I should have made it clearer, I use ‘blurb’ interchangeably and I shouldn’t. There’s the one-liners on the front of the book, and then a book description on the back. The ones I’m referring in my first paragraph are one-liners.
      Thanks for the biscuit, I hope it was a Tim Tam!

      Like

  3. I don’t think blurbs are worth anything. They are designed to misrepresent the book, and I don’t know why you include them in your reviews.
    I hope the moral of the story here is woman, be independent. But, having once argued that Elizabeth Bennet should have married Mr Collins to secure her mother and sisters’ future, I wonder what other course Afi should have followed.

    Like

    • Ah, see above for how I use the word blurb to mean two different things, and I shouldn’t.
      As for including the book description: TBH it’s a shortcut that saves me typing out my own description of what the book is about. Not satisfactory, I agree, but keeping the blog show on the road with my hand the way it is, is not at all easy. Hopefully these compromises are short term…

      Like

  4. I’ve got the latest Kevin Kwan on my current stack for hilarity (and have been considering re-watching Crazy Rich Asians too, for that matter). It’s true, books billed as fun often aren’t e-n-t-i-r-e-l-y fun. Which is fine, and often much appreciated with some grim subjects, but not when one is in desperate need of entertainment.

    Like

  5. You know what I think it is? All those grim and gloomy books coming onto the market have hit publication when people need something lighter. So the blurb gets redesigned!

    Like

  6. You appreciated this more than I did. I didn’t dislike it but just though the author could have done more with the subject.

    In no way could I see how this book was described as hilarious

    Like

    • I did think, as I was reading it, of So Long a Letter by Mariama Ba, which tackled polygamy way back in 1980. I think what this one tackles well is the way in which families including powerful matriarchs are complicit in it.

      Like

      • It’s an aspect I hadn’t picked up when I read this but yes, those mothers do dictate the future

        Like


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