Friday, January 15, 2021

His Only Wife


His Only Wife / Peace Adzo Medie
Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin, c2020.
278 p.

This is a tale of modern Ghana, getting a lot of attention for its portrayal of a young woman facing traditional barriers to her happiness. And it's a bit of a reversal of the fairy tale story since the main character's Prince isn't so charming. But let's be honest, I was drawn to pick this one up primarily because the main character is a seamstress -- although there really wasn't a lot of detail in this area, she does train at a fashion studio in Accra, and eventually begins selling her own designs, so there is sewing and fashion content. Probably not as interesting to other readers overall, but I liked it! 

So what's it about? Afi is a young woman living with her mother, scraping together a living as a seamstress. Then a Cinderella moment comes: the rich owner of the factory Afi’s mother works at makes an offer of marriage to Afi on behalf of her son Elikem Ganyo.

The Ganyo family see Afi as a traditional Ghanian woman, and also one who will be grateful to them for raising her up in society. So they wish to use her to get their son back from the other woman he loves, but who the family strongly disapproves of, and expect that Afi's gratitude at being raised out of her village life will buy her compliance with all their plans. 

After a marriage by proxy, Afi moves to the capital city of Accra, into a luxurious apartment supplied by the Ganyos – but doesn’t even meet Eli for weeks. When she finally does, she’s all a wife should be, and falls into an immediate infatuation with this rich, handsome man. But as the truth slowly breaks over her, she begins to realize what she really wants, and to set some boundaries for herself.

I wasn't sold on this book, personally. I felt that the characters were a little shallowly drawn, and that Afi herself was a hard character to like. She felt dramatic and needy, and a bit too naive when it came to her relationship with Eli and with his circle of friends. However, rather than staying a doormat, Afi stands up for herself and gets what she wants from this rich man in the end. It's a bit anti-romance and pro-self actualization, leaving Afi as a businesswoman full of plans for her future. 

It's a breezily told story which nevertheless uncovers some serious issues; the author is a known activist for women’s rights in her home country, and the effects of polygamy on contemporary women in Ghana are explored here. The setting and the unusual storyline are compelling, while the characters could benefit from a little more complexity. But if you are looking for a story of a woman’s journey to herself, with family drama and some steamy scenes mixed in, this would be a great choice.

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