I recently finished my third book by a female African writer this year! 2011's The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives by Lola Shoneyin was AMAZING. Hands down one of my favorite books. This book followed the histories, and scandalous realities of the brute that is Baba Segi, and his four wives. Polygamy is real in Africa, its common, and part of the culture in many nations. What I liked about this book is it humanized polygamy. It focused not only on how women cope with living in a polygamous household, but how they came to make this life choice, and how they can even flourish in this type of marriage. This book hits upon sex, sensuality, rape, domestic violence, illegitimate children, murder, EVERYTHING. It was like reading the script to a Nigerian movie written by Chinua Achebe. The prose was remarkable, and it left me feeling so attached to the women in the stories, I cried at the end!
After I read the book I wanted to leave it a raving review online, so I hoped over to Goodreads.com to leave my two cents. Well, I found lots of reviews for the book by African, and Caribbean women, some good, some in the middle. THEN, I fell upon two reviews from Susie and Christine that gave me a good laugh:
These "Western" women, so far removed from the realities of other people, were astounded that they could actually enjoy a story that did not reflect their own lives or interests. I suppose they would label themselves as literary risk takers, going out on a limb to read a book about....[SHOCKER] African women?! The surprise that is felt in their reviews made me angry. The surprise that a book about African women in a polygamous marriage could actually be well written and enthralling. I don’t get it? Why is it so hard to connect to the experience of people in Africa? Do we not sit through English classes all of our lives being forced to read Jane Austen books (no I don’t want no damn Mr. Darcy), have we not been told that literary classics are set in 1900 England? When is the last time you have heard someone say, "you know I really couldn’t connect with Pride and Prejudice because you know, I’m African and live in 2016 Washington, DC." From the day we begin to hone our reading comprehension skills, black girls are fed books about the white, European, experience and told THOSE were the classics. Those were the best stores ever written. There is a normalization of the white Western story that has left society looking at other narratives as so farfetched and far removed, its seemingly impossible to understand or enjoy the diversity of the human experience.
Of course lately there have been books that attempt to bridge the gaps. Americanah is every white woman's guide on how to walk in the shoes of an African woman in America. Although I have my issues with Americanah, I can also recognize that it is spreading the stories and voices of women like me far and wide. Yes, it is a start, but is it good enough?