His Only Wife by Peace Adzo Medie
Published by Algonquin Books, 2020
Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Addictive melodrama reminiscent of a soap opera masks incisive commentary on finding independence, the pitfalls of polygamy and the reality of Ghanaian class divides in this hugely readable debut novel.
21-year-old Afi is a talented Ghanaian seamstress eager to study fashion design, but her life is upturned when her mother agrees to an arranged marriage with a virtual stranger, the son of a wealthy local businesswoman, on her behalf. Afi is whisked from her small town and placed in a luxury apartment in the capital of Accra. It soon becomes clear that Afi’s husband Eli is already in love with someone else, a woman his family disapproves of, and that his family has set up his marriage to Afi to lure him away from her.
This “other woman” lingers on the periphery for almost the entire novel, and I thought this was a very clever narrative decision. It allows her, the rival who is never seen but whose presence is always felt, to remain as elusive to the reader as she is to Afi. It also emphasizes that the contention between her and Afi is born wholly from the influence of others, and not through any fault of their own.