Summary: His Only Wife by Peace Adzo Medie
His Only Wife was my return to adult fiction. I always wondered which book would finally do it, and it was this one. Set in Ghana, this debut novel by Peace Adzo Medie follows a young seamstress from Ho village, Afi Tekple. The story opens at Afi’s marriage to Elikem Ganyo, a wealthy Ghanaian businessman — except Elikem is absent during the ceremony, and his brother is standing in for him.
The Ganyos are marrying Afi traditionally for their son, because they are displeased with his current relationship with a Liberian woman with whom he has a daughter. According to them, the woman is wicked and has taken their son from his extended family. She also does not know Ghanaian traditions and will not let them come and go as they please to their son’s home. They want Afi to win Elikem’s heart and cause him to discard his Liberian lover.
Throughout the book, we follow Afi on a roller coaster of emotions and experiences as she develops a relationship with Elikem, eventually falling in love with him. But will she win his heart? And are things really as the Ganyo family says?
This book is hard to put down. I finished listening to NINE HOURS of the audiobook on Scribd in less than two days. The author is a fantastic storyteller, and this is literary fiction that is simply written and easy to read. It’s very plot-driven, but we also get to learn a substantial amount about the characters and their motivations. The story is told from Afi’s point of view, and she is such a strong, likeable character. Like many young African women raised in her surroundings, she places a lot of her value as a woman on her domestic prowess or her ability to please everyone around her. However, as the story progresses, she grows and begins to spread her wings, both at home and in her career.
Medie also tackles many societal issues common to African culture, such as the “Black tax” where one successful family member now has to provide financially for even their uncaring extended family. Afi’s uncle is an aggravating character, but the author still manages to put a slightly comic twist to his actions. Something else I appreciated was the portrayal of all the characters as full, complex humans, not caricatures to entertain readers. Their cultures may be damaging at times, but the characters still take that culture seriously; they care what their neighbors will think. I could easily see this story — and honestly have seen versions of it — play out in real life.
I liked reading Afi’s friendship with Evelyn, as well as watching her business grow throughout the story. Finally, I really enjoyed the dynamics between Afi and Elikem. You’ll have to read it to understand, but I felt her alternating hope, disappointment, despair, and hope again as things continued to shift between them. A major theme in this book is the fact that women have agency, should have agency, and should, of course, use that agency to improve their lives.
Overall: His Only Wife by Peace Adzo Medie
I thoroughly enjoyed this debut novel. His Only Wife highlights the struggles that women face when they let others, whether culture, men, or family dictate the basis of their worth. Although this story features a lot of drama, it is far from melodramatic. Author Peace Adzo Medie has created a novel that weaves serious issues and real emotions into a humorous, entertaining story about the rise and rise of a formidable heroine. If you like books by African women about strong African women set in Africa, you’ll enjoy this captivating debut by Ghanaian author Peace Adzo Medie.
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Have you read this book? What did you think? What are your favorite books by African authors? I’m excited to read whatever this author writes next!