“Elikem married me in absentia; he did not come to our wedding.”
This glorious first line, together with the book’s beautiful cover is what got me hooked onto this powerfully written debut novel by Peace Adzo Medie. The other thing was the Ewe-ness of the whole story (I was like yesss, my people!).
Okay, in order to not get carried away, let me first give you a brief synopsis of what His Only Wife is all about.
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 (Goodreads).
So basically, that is what the novel entails. The novel is brilliantly feminist and relatable, set in contemporary Ghana, the issue of marriage and family are two major things every Ghanaian woman will face or has faced once in her lifetime.
Inasmuch as I liked the character Afi, and how much she grew from being this young, timid village girl who came to the city with just one quest in mind to this fierce, knowledgeable woman with choices, she was not my favorite character. In fact, some of her decisions annoyed me at times but that’s understandable for a character like hers whose initial aim was to please others and do as she was told.
My favorite character was Evelyn, Richard’s girlfriend who seemed to be in charge of her life and knew what she wanted and needed as a woman.
However, I had mixed feelings about Elikem; liking him at the beginning, hating him halfway through the book and to the end but also sympathizing with him in some way. I just wished they (all the three Ganyo brothers) could have stood up to their mother (Aunty) at least for once.
Aunty was such a human character I could not hate her. She was a perfect representation of how good people can also have their bad sides and how all of these coexist and combine in a complex mix to make us who we are. But no doubt she was controlling and authoritarian.
Family members like Tɔga Pious can go to hell for all I care. Seriously, I wanted to enter the story and just smack his annoying ass sometimes. He’s not far from the annoying, opportunistic, wicked uncles who exist in almost every Ghanaian/African family, appearing only when there is personal gain involved.
I also found beautiful the friendship between Afi and her cousin, Mawusi back in the village and also the one she formed with Evelyn in the city of Accra. They each contributed significantly to Afi’s growth in their own different ways.
Although I enjoyed the novel thoroughly, I would have appreciated the Liberian woman, Muna’s point of view. Or even Elikem’s. It felt a bit one-sided to me to have only Afi tell the story. There were times I wished I could hear Muna’s perspective or opinion about the whole second wife situation and how she was handling having to share Elikem too. I wished she had played a stronger antagonistic role in Afi’s path as well, aside from just being a nuisance the Ganyo family wanted to be rid of.
But I totally get why Peace would stick to a single POV. For a debut novel, you don’t want to do too much and mess the whole thing up. It’s better to keep things simple and nice. But if ever she thinks of writing a sequel, Muna’s or Elikem’s POV would be awesome. (how about His First Wife? or His Two Wives?, lol😁)
But in all, this is a really beautiful story. Written in English interlaced with Eʋegbe, it’s such a personal and lovely read for me. Afi felt like a sister I’d never met. I’d give this book a 5/5. Highly recommended to anyone who loves contemporary Ghanaian fiction and stories about women breaking bounds. Looking forward to reading more works from Peace Adzo Medie.
Thank you so much for reading.
Have you read His Only Wife? What did you think of it as well. I’d love to know in the comments below.
If you haven’t, you should definitely add it to your TBR list.