In this essay, Adebiyi Rasheed is never in a rush, he takes good time in outlining the parallels and differences that exist between the two books of The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives and Under the Brown Rusted Roofs at close comparison. CLR hopes you find this review on these books informative. Read as CLR features Adebiyi Rasheed's offering.
Two stories. Two women writers. Two slightly different settings. Similar issues addressed. These are the similitude between Lola Shoneyin's The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives and Abimbola Adelakun's Under the Brown Rusted Roofs. While the similarities do not end there, the differences are many too. The only way to cast a comparative appraisal look on the two books is to examine them through their Storylines, Character Development, Mode of Narration and Cultural Portrayal.
Shoneyin's book centres on Baba Segi, his four wives and the dark secret that envelopes his household. To partake of the 'family feast', Baba Segi's wives ford the shoreline of the despicable to marital grimness at swift will. To keep the family whole under Baba Segi's roof, vows are betrayed and sacredness defiled. However, the coming of the fourth wife, Bolanle, bells the cat. Being well-educated, Bolanle's coming is never well-received by the other three wives. They see in her a threat to their hold on their husband. This marks their undoing as the wives' long concealed secret begins unfurling its rinds at the medical trial of Bolanle's reproductive ability.
Adelakun's story documents the travails, pains and intense relationship that exist in a traditional polygamous family in Ibadan. It focuses on the marital, social and political journey of Alhaji Arigbabuwo and his family. It narrates the attempt of the man to manage a home made up by Iyale Agba (the hurt first wife), Afusat (the sociable second wife), Sikirat (the troublesome third wife) and their children. The narrative captures the ups and downs of rearing a big family in the midst of other extended relatives. Under the Brown Rusted Roofs is not a story of an individual but a narration of a city and its attempt at the survival of its inhabitants.
From the summary of the two stories, a discerning reader can easily see a trend in the narrations of the books. The two writers tell their readers a single story of family life. They both focus on polygamy and the revelations that emanate from polygamous families. While Shoneyin uses the big dark secret to drive her story, Adelakun dwells on the family interaction and culture to take her work to a meaningful end. Shoneyin picks her characters individually and bares them open to the readers; Adelakun uses the collective thread to weave the story in her book. However, kudos should be given to the writers for stories well told. A conscious reader should be able to locate the likeness in the stories and at the same time pick out their differences.
Mode of Narration
The writers, despite the parallel of their stories, use different Narrative Modes. Shoneyin opens up her book with an omniscient voice but reverts to a self-confessional style where each character tells their stories. That is why she titles each chapter after a character and gives the concerned character the room to narrate personal ordeal. This aligns well with the secret she uses to drive her plot.
Adelakun leaves nobody in doubt that she will play the Supreme Being in the lives of her characters. She opens the story with a reference to the early life of Alhaji Arigbabuwo and his own dad before coming to reveal his adult life as well as his family. She knows her characters thoroughly. She understands what drives them and the fear that gnaws their heart away. She sees it all and does not hesitate to expose them as well. Observant readers will know Baban'sale and his habit of being at every fight no matter how ridiculous within the compounds. They will discover that Afusat has a hold on her husband and that most of Alhaji's decisions have Afusat's inputs. They will understand without much difficulty that each woman in Alhaji's household operates from behind a facade and how individual woman longs for the companionship they are in deprivation of by the presence of other women in the family. Adelakun truly plays the god.
Despite the difference in the narrative modes of the books, the authors understand their styles well and make use of them almost to faultlessness. The total omniscient narrative technique Adelakun utilizes fits the plot she develops while the self-confessional method adopted by Shoneyin gives interesting appeal to her plot development.
Closely related to their narrative approach is their Character Development. The two writers develop their characters to a point. Shoneyin caters for her characters on individual basis. Adelakun fleshes out her characters from the community of other characters. Through the self-confessional method Shoneyin exercises with, one is able to appreciate the individuality of the characters and the story that each has to tell of their lives. In Shoneyin's piece, we are introduced to each character singularly. This makes enough information available to the readers and we are able to interact and empathise with the characters. A good instance of this is the revelation of each wife on how she finds herself in Baba Segi's house. With her glowing searchlight on each individual, readers are able to see through the characters and why they act the way they do. Readers are also privy to their thoughts and the reasons behind their actions.
Adelakun's god-like narrative mode contributes to the development of her characters too. She picks on the characters and divulges a lot about them. She knows the reasons behind their actions also but reveals them in the third person. This maintains a kind of distance between the readers and the characters. We look into the world of the characters from the eyes of the author. But the style suits the story. It makes her authoritative. For example, she reveals Afusat's hypnosis on Alhaji Arigbabuwo through her authoritativeness into the intimate time of the two characters. She is also able to justify why Afusat will be the most successful of Alhaji's women: Afusat has the first son with a university education in the house hold; she deserves it as she works hard for it; shielding her sons from unhealthy influence in the compound. The use of the omniscient way of revealing her character shows she has a good grasp of the people involved in her narration.
The two authors carefully choose to build up their characters in a manner that goes down well with their different stories.
The Setting of the two narratives is seemingly alike but slightly different. Shoneyin sites her story in the urban educated area of Ibadan. Adelakun locates her own story in the rural part of the ancient city. There is a boundary between these two parts at KS side and Total Garden in Ibadan. This is reflected in the kind of characters they portray in their narratives. In Adelakun's story, the characters reside in agbooles which can literally be interpreted as rural compounds. Shoneyin's characters stay in a superficially enlightened environment. In Under the brown Rusted Roofs, decisions are influenced by a horde of relatives and inquisitive neighbours. Shoneyin's characters are secluded from the inquisitive eyes of neighbours.
Portrayal of Culture
Adelakun scores a first when it comes to Portrayal of Culture. Granted that the two books are set in Ibadan and that Adelakun's work is more on the rural side, yet, Shoneyin's book cannot stand its side when it comes to how culture is used in the two books. Adelakun employs proverbs, folktales and songs. It does not stop there. She uses legends and myths as well. In short, she deploys local culture to a fault. This is what Shoneyin's lacks. It should then be mentioned that even though the deployment of culture gives shinier colour to Adelakun's work, the absence of it in Shoneyin's book does not take anything away from its aesthetics.
The two writers are deft at story telling. They tell their different stories in distinct styles. They look at an issue with two unlike eyes and each could be said to be right in their own ways. They use simple language to tell the world of the experiences of women who find themselves in a polygamous family without giving judgement of any kind. They leave the rest to the readers to decide. Being women, they talk about one of the plights of women without being seriously sentimental. It is a rare feature of mature writers.
· Adebiyi Rasheed could be reached through firstname.lastname@example.org