I finally finished His Only Wife by Peace Adzo Medie. I say finally as it was a slow read for me. There is a lot going on and yet, it is a straightforward novel. I will start off with it is a “sophisticated romance” vs a “light-hearted romance.” The biggest difference between the two is in a light-hearted romance you tend to know there will be a happily ever after, and a sophisticated romance might not have a happily ever after for our lovers. Neither is “better or worse” but it does let you know the type of romance you are getting into.
This story is a 4.5 as it is basically perfect, but with the pacing issues. There is much in the way of the build up to the climax. This is a feminist plot that shows a world that is both unfamiliar and familiar at the same time. Maybe the ending is too pat, but also the only one that could happen for the end (had it been at the start it would be another story).
Afi is from a part of Ghana that is still deep into traditions. Men can have multiple wives and, of course, children. The extended family is expected to help take care of each other not only monetarily, but in ways that we might think almost neglectful of the parents. The men rule over wives, even sometimes in a petty way. But then we meet Elikem’s family. A wealthy family that has a foot in both the old and new worlds. To pay off the life-long debt she and her mother owe, and to control her son, “Aunty” forces Afi into an arranged marriage. But though Eli is in the modern world, he still holds onto some old ideas. And Afi is not sure she can be one of his wives as she really wants to be the only wife.
Medie allows us to see the pampered rich, the poor and how one village girl tries and rise above. But does the past hold her too tight for her to have a future?
I felt happy, sad, and thoughtful throughout the reading. I am not sure if I completely liked Afi and the same goes for Eli and his family. Yet, I did not blame them for some of the things that they do. (My interpretation was: everyone is trying to live, survive, be happy and doing the best they can, even if it is not what you would choose). You see the culture of a land we might not be familiar with but also might have heard of some pieces (having to buy uniforms to go to school, dowries, the traditional wedding details). There is a lot to like, dislike and to consider. Would be an interesting book club read, but also a solo read. What you take from it will be heavily influenced by your personal backgrounds and beliefs.