His Only Wife by Peace Adzo Medie is an engaging novel set in Ghana about a young woman’s journey as she navigates society and social expectations.
Do you like to follow celebrity book clubs? I feel like for a majority of you, the answer is, yes! Many times whichever book a celebrity picks for their book club, ends up making the bestsellers list. One of the most popular ones now is Reese Witherspoon’s book club.
Reese book club picked His Only Wife for her October selection. It seems that Reese and her company are focused on bringing a variety of different voices to the mainstream from The Henna Artist to The Last Story of Mina Lee. His Only Wife takes readers to modern-day Ghana and it’s an interesting and unique story. It’s not very long either, at about 288 pages, so I ended up reading it one sitting.
I will say some of the promotion tried to compare it to Crazy Rich Asians and there are some similarities (mainly with wealth and a difficult spouse’s mother) but His Only Wife very much stands on its own. I also thought it’s more serious than Crazy Rich Asians.
Afi Tekple is a young seamstress in Ghana. She is smart; she is pretty; and she has been convinced by her mother to marry a man she does not know. Afi knows who he is, of course—Elikem is a wealthy businessman whose mother has chosen Afi in the hopes that she will distract him from his relationship with a woman his family claims is inappropriate. But Afi is not prepared for the shift her life takes when she is moved from her small hometown of Ho to live in Accra, Ghana’s gleaming capital, a place of wealth and sophistication where she has days of nothing to do but cook meals for a man who may or may not show up to eat them. She has agreed to this marriage in order to give her mother the financial security she desperately needs, and so she must see it through. Or maybe not?
His Only Wife is a witty, smart, and moving debut novel about a brave young woman traversing the minefield of modern life with its taboos and injustices, living in a world of men who want their wives to be beautiful, to be good cooks and mothers, to be women who respect their husbands and grant them forbearance. And in Afi, Peace Medie has created a delightfully spunky and relatable heroine who just may break all the rules.
We read the story from Afi’s perspective starting with her wedding day where her husband Eli is a no show. That sets the stage for the kind of dynamic between Afi and Eli. Not only is this an arranged marriage but he can’t find the time to show up to his own wedding day! You really feel for Afi who is put in an impossible situation by wanting to please her mother but also realizing she’s giving up a lot of freedom and a chance for her own love story.
Still, though, Afi is determined to make it work with Eli. And it’s not all horrible as she’s moves into an upscale flat and attends fashion design classes. Eventually, she spends more time with Eli and they do connect but mainly as a result of lust at first. He seems more interested in her looks and the fact she’s a good cook rather than anything else. And there’s still the question about the other woman he’s seeing, which he wants Afi to be fine with but she is rightfully very upset by.
Despite what everyone seems to think, Afi is not a pushover. I enjoyed reading her gain more confidence and stick up for herself and what’s right.
The setting is fantastic. Especially now with everything going on in the pandemic, it’s nice to read a story that takes you to another place. The descriptions and customs of Ghana are quite vivid in this story.
For book clubs
I see why Reese selected this for her book club. It’s thought-provoking and becomes a female empowerment story in many ways. There’s a lot I want to say about this novel but don’t want to spoil anything! The only drawback for me was I felt the ending was a bit abrupt and I wanted a bit more closure.
Book clubs will have a lively discussion about this one. Check out my book club questions here.