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Tuesday, September 1, 2020

His Only Wife by Peace Adzo Medie

His Only Wife by Peace Adzo Medie
Published by Algonquin ISBN 9781616209155
Hardcover, $25.95, 288 pages

The first sentence of Peace Adzo Medie's enthralling debut novel, His Only Wife, captures your attention immediately- "Elikem married me in absentia, he did not come to our wedding." Afi is a young woman in Ghana, she lives with her mom and works in a small shop as a seamstress, dreaming of studying to become a fashion designer.

When the matriarch of the wealthy Ganyo family decides that her son Eli will marry Afi, people are surprised, including Afi who didn't know Eli well. Eli spends most of time traveling for the family business, all over Africa and overseas. 

After the wedding, Afi waits at her home for Eli to come to her. A few weeks later, she and her mother are whisked away to a beautiful condo in the big city of Accra, where Afi is to live. But she still hasn't seen her husband.

Eli's family wanted him to marry Afi to get him away from a Liberian woman with whom he has fallen in love. They believe that the woman is not suitable for Eli, she does not respect his family. His brothers tell Afi terrible things about her. They believe that if Afi can show Eli what a good wife she is, he will leave the other woman.

Eventually Eli comes to the condo. He seems tentative, but kind to her. He gives her money to shop, cooks her breakfast, and even encourages her to follow her dream of studying fashion design and offers to help her open up her own clothing boutique.

He spends a few nights with Afi, and she falls in love with him. When they are together, spending time with Eli's family and friends, life is good. But will Eli stay with Afi or return to the other woman?

As time goes on, Afi becomes unhappy about her marriage. She loves her new career, and has even made a few friends, but she must ask herself what price is she willing to pay for it? She loves her husband, and although her family and Eli's family encourage her to just accept that many men have two "wives", Afi must decide how important her own happiness is.

One of most compelling books I read over that past few years is Ayobami Adebayo's novel, Stay With Me, about a young Nigerian couple who, when they cannot conceive a child, are encouraged by their families to take on another wife. His Only Wife mines similar territory, and just as strong.

I loved the character of Afi, she isn't willing to follow tradition if it makes her unhappy. She works hard, and follows her dreams. The women in this story are strong-willed, and many of them start their own businesses, not willing to rely on men, including Eli's mother and Evelyn, a woman Afi befriends in the condo next door. One of Afi's sister-in-laws is even entering politics now that her children are grown. If the world is to change, women need to be economically independent.

Reading takes us all over the world, and in His Only Wife, we go from the small village of Ho, where Afi grew up, to the glittering big city of Accra, where, as in any large cosmopolitan city, wealthy people live a lifestyle that only money can buy. I enjoy reading about the food people eat, what clothes they wear, and where they shop, and Peace Adzo Medie does a terrific job putting right there in Ghana with her characters.

I highly recommend His Only Wife.

Thanks to Algonquin Books for putting me on Peace Adzo Medie's book tour.

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