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His Only Wife

Review

His Only Wife

From scholar and advocate Peace Adzo Medie comes HIS ONLY WIFE, a vibrant and inspiring debut novel about a young bride married first and foremost to her independence, and second to an absent man.

Afi Tekple lives in Ghana with her widowed mother and their colorful relatives, including her greedy uncle Pious. Her father is dead, and Afi and her mother have been forced to rely on the kindness of their extended family to get by, a fact that Pious has no trouble throwing in her face when it suits him. When we meet Afi, she is preparing for the biggest wedding her town has seen in ages but with a twist: She is the bride, and her own husband is just about the only person not attending the wedding. Afi is marrying into her town’s wealthiest and most well-known family, the Ganyos, but her fairy tale wedding comes with a price: her husband, Elikem, is besotted with another woman, of whom his family disapproves, and they believe it is Afi’s job to bring him back from her clutches. Eli seems like a catch at first, with his wealth and generous family, but it soon becomes clear that Afi is just another game-changer in a long-brewing family war.

"Combining heart and humor with a hearty dose of feminism, Peace Adzo Medie’s debut is an illuminating and empowering read with a heroine you will remember for a long time."

Afi is an immediately likable character. She is in a bizarre situation, and though she wields little power initially, she is sharp and witty, and her observations on marriage, in-laws and wealth will quickly endear her to any reader. Medie immerses us in Afi’s life, beginning with her wedding: a vibrant, food-filled and hilarious blend of rich customs, quirky relatives and a young girl’s fear about what comes next. Newly married to a man she knows close to nothing about, Afi and her mother journey to the capital city of Accra, where she will be installed in one of her husband’s homes. It soon becomes clear that Eli is a bit more involved with the other woman than his family initially let on. He shares a child with her and is often forced to race off to check on his child’s well-being, chase his mistress around the world, or bend to her ever-more demanding claims for his attention.

Accustomed to living in her uncle's home with many relatives, Afi is initially shocked by the plush apartment where she is to reside, spending hours every day cleaning and shopping for the best foods in order to prove to her husband that she will be a good wife. But Afi is confused when Eli does not visit her for weeks. How can she win him back from the other woman if he does not come to her? When Eli finally makes an appearance, he is beautiful and kind, encouraging Afi to use her free time in a way that fulfills her, even going so far as to enroll her in one of the best design schools around. She dreams of being a seamstress and is swept away by the closeness of her dream, the unexpected kindness of her husband, and the hope that salvation might be just around the corner. Slowly but surely, she finds herself falling for Eli and conforming to his idea of the perfect wife: dependable but sexy, available but mysterious. Unfortunately for Eli, Afi is so much more than his only wife.

Medie gives readers a modern feminist fairy tale where the woman saves herself. HIS ONLY WIFE is already being heralded as a tale of empowerment, but what I loved most about it was how carefully Medie tracked Afi’s journey. This is not the story of a woman brought into an arranged marriage who withholds herself from finding love unless it is on her own terms, nor is it about a romantic young girl who learns the truth about love the hard way. The novel is full of ups and downs, “he loves me” and “he loves me nots.” Afi’s slow awakening to her own autonomy is one of the most believable and heart-stirring that I have read in quite some time, yet Medie never preaches or talks down to her readers.

Each of the women in Medie’s Ghana is powerful in her own way and self-assured in her happiness, yet each is subject to the whims of one man or another. In this way, HIS ONLY WIFE is not only about breaking free of the roles society pins upon us, but about how women are able to carve out small moments, friendships and passions that empower them. Afi’s love of dressmaking and her drive to learn complicated designs was a real highlight of the book, and I loved how her ambition helped her advocate for herself in her family, marriage and dreams for her future.

Combining heart and humor with a hearty dose of feminism, Peace Adzo Medie’s debut is an illuminating and empowering read with a heroine you will remember for a long time. Perfect for readers of Candice Carty-Williams and Oyinkan Braithwaite, HIS ONLY WIFE ushers in a stunning new talent and an unforgettable story about what it means to be a woman, wife and daughter.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on September 18, 2020

His Only Wife
by Peace Adzo Medie

  • Publication Date: September 1, 2020
  • Genres: Fiction, Women's Fiction
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books
  • ISBN-10: 1616209151
  • ISBN-13: 9781616209155