That vibrant jacket with its singing colours played some part in my considering Peace Adzo Medie’s His Only Wife for review. It was one of those dreary winter days with little good news to be had and I needed cheering up. Then I noticed Medie lectures at a local university but it was its striking opening line which sealed the deal. Medie’s debut is the story of a young Ghanaian woman caught up in a web of obligation yanked tight by a manipulative matriarch whose generosity comes at a very high price.
Elikem married me in absentia; he did not come to our wedding.
Afi and Eli’s wedding is as lavish as any rich family might be expected to stage, the only difference being the groom’s absence. Twenty-one-year-old Afi knows she’s been selected by the Ganyo family in an attempt to lure Eli away from the Liberian woman with whom he has a daughter. Afi is fed a stream of stories about Muna – the spell she’s cast on Eli, her ugliness, her bad mothering – swallowing them without question. She and her mother are tied by obligation to Faustina Ganyo who provided for them when Afi’s uncle would not. Afi and her mother move to Accra, stunned by the palatial apartment they find themselves in but months pass before Eli visits when a tentative married life finally begins. As Afi’s confidence grows she decides to deliver an ultimatum, souring their relationship until she becomes pregnant with Eli’s first son. A year after Selorm’s birth, all seems set for a bright future: Afi’s running a successful boutique stocked with her own designs, she and Eli are deeply in love and her mother is settled in her own house. There’s just one thing that Afi must do: she needs a marriage certificate to legalise her arrangement with Eli and has a romantic proposal planned for a trip to Paris. Just before the couple are due to fly, there’s a fashion shoot that must go ahead, and everything changes.
This is not one of these telenovelas you and Mawusi have been watching. This is real life. This is our life. You will get to know him and like him.
Afi tells us her own story, from her nervous anticipation waiting to take her position at the elaborate wedding party she knows her husband-to-be will not attend, to her decision, two years later, to take control of her life, no matter how painful. She’s an engaging narrator, a naïve, small town girl when the novel opens, understanding of her obligations but unsure what is expected of her, developing into a strong independent woman determined to ensure her own and her family’s future. There’s an enjoyable vein of humour running through her story – the greedy Uncle Pious is a star turn, charging his relatives a monthly fee to use his flushing toilet. Over it all looms the tyrannical Aunty Faustina, always in the background. Afi’s difficult journey to independence smartly contrasts with Faustina’s manipulative exploitation of her position, carelessly ruining lives. A thoroughly enjoyable first novel. Given her day job, I hope Medie manages to find enough time to write another.
Oneworld: London 9780861540693 288 pages Hardback