Maverick Life

BOOK REVIEW

In case you missed it — Peace Adzo Medie’s ‘His Only Wife’ is a gripping read

In case you missed it — Peace Adzo Medie’s ‘His Only Wife’ is a gripping read
Book cover, supplied. Image composite: Maverick Life

If you’re looking for a tale that will keep you up until late at night, then get your hands on a copy of the 2020 novel, ‘His Only Wife’ by Ghanaian author Peace Adzo Medie.

His Only Wife touches on many socially relevant themes; it is beautifully written; the sentences flow effortlessly and you will find yourself immersed in them; they will elicit laughter and delight.

When her father dies, Afi and her mother are evicted from their government house and their possessions are seized by those claiming that her father owed them money. 

None of their relatives wants to take them in. They are forced to move in with a neighbour who takes pity on them; they sleep in a shared room with several others. 

But their fortunes change when rich Aunty Faustina Ganyo, who is revered by the local community in Ho, outside Accra, in Ghana, feels compassion for Afi and her mother’s situation and offers them a house of their own. Aunty Faustina also employs Afi’s mother as a saleswoman at her flour distribution depot to ensure a better life for them. 

But things get even better when Afi comes of age and Aunty Faustina arranges for Afi to marry her son, Eli, which will catapult Afi’s status from one of being on the fringes of poverty to a life of wealth and affluence. 

The proposed match is an answer to all of Afi’s mothers problems: If Afi becomes Aunty Faustina’s daughter-in-law, then they need never worry about their home being taken from them. The only problem is that Afi only met Eli as a child, when he visited the flour depot that her mother worked at. She is told that he is a catch, but having not seen him for many years, she has no way of knowing for sure. 

The book opens with Afi’s wedding to Eli. While the wedding itself is a grand affair, Eli is suddenly called away on business and Afi has to marry him in absentia. 

The story takes us on Afi’s journey from her hometown in Ho to a life of luxury (she is swept away by the air conditioning, rose-coloured walls, soft creamy carpet, en-suite bathrooms and a dishwasher that she refuses to use).

And yet, her enthusiasm dwindles when she discovers that Eli will not live with her, and that there is, in fact, an “other woman” – a woman he met in Liberia and has been in love with for many years. 

His Only Wife is a riveting read. It touches on many themes that are socially relevant and is an astute exploration of social status and class. It takes us on Afi’s journey of initially not wanting to spend the stashes of money handed out to her, to her metamorphosis into a woman who has buying power and is able to walk empty handed into a mall and leave with bags of bespoke purchases. 

At her first social outing at a lavish event in Accra, she is a wallflower, unable to talk to anyone, with Coke being her drink of choice. As she starts becoming more secure in her sense of self and her social status, she morphs into someone who begins to command the respect concomitant with her social status. 

His Only Wife is also a well-executed reflection on gendered roles – what it means to be a “good” wife and mother and the gendered roles associated with this. But it is also a reflection on what it means to be “the other woman” and the relationship and power dynamics between two women in love with the same man. 

The web it weaves here is intricate and complex, because essentially, His Only Wife is a love story: When two people are in love with the same man who loves them both, but is centred in his sense of power and feels a sense of entitlement to both women.   

Afi’s mother thinks the solution is simple. “Just focus on taking good care of him. Do your best to make him happy and everything will be fine,” she says. Afi is consumed by this quest: She cooks Eli’s favourite meals, washes, starches and irons his clothes, and hovers around him, ready to respond to his every wish. “How I could rest? Resting would cost me my marriage, my husband. There could be no rest,” she says. 

His Only Wife is also beautifully written; the sentences flow easily and you will find yourself immersed in them; the story will hold you as you step into Afi’s intriguing head. 

The book also brings Ghanaian cuisine, culture and landscape to the fore. You will find yourself longing for okra soup reddened with palm oil, kontomire and yams. Mostly though, you will fall in love with Afi who is a product of a gendered social order (as we all are), but is able to challenge the status quo and subvert it. 

His Only Wife is a beautiful story of a woman coming into her power. DM

His Only Wife by Peace Adzo Medie was published in 2020 and is available at Exclusive Books.

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