*Given an advanced reading copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review*
His Only Wife by Peace Adzo Medie dives into African family relations that can arrange an marriage yet destroy it at the same time.
The story opens with Afi, a twentysomething struggling seamstress and failed student living in Ghana, preparing for her wedding. Without her husband, whom she never met. Going through with the marriage because of her shortcomings, Afi also wants to please her mother who wants to please Aunty Faustina Ganyo, a wealthy woman in the community who has her hands on everything―and likes it that way. Afi knows her mother never recovered from her father’s death, and now the head of their extended family is her stingy Uncle Pious. But Afi’s mother has received a lot of help from Aunty, and Aunty offering her favorite son Elikem “Eli” Ganyo to Afi to marry is the ultimate gift.
Moving away from her small village of Ho to the big city of Accra, Afi lives in a luxury apartment. Without her husband, whom she still has never met. It turns out Aunty set up Afi with Eli because she doesn’t like Eli’s Liberian girlfriend Muna. Not only is Muna not Ghanaian, but she’s too tall, has a manly shape, and a “roasted coffee beans” complexion, and she smokes cigarettes, drinks alcohol, and refuses to connect with the family and culture, according to the Ganyos. Plus, the daughter Muna had with Eli is battling sickle cell anemia, and they had already lost a child due to the same illness, so the Ganyos see Muna as a threat to their family line. But they also said Eli will leave Muna for Afi, who is light-skinned and Ghanaian, exactly what the Ganyos prefer for Eli’s wife. As Afi and Eli finally get close, Afi realizes that she still lives in the apartment while Muna lives in the mansion. She fights to get in the mansion, and when she does, she thinks the fight for Eli’s affection is over. But it’s far from over.
Afi is a young woman who doesn’t come from money and has had her education hopes dashed after failing entrance exams twice. But her luck changes once she becomes a wife with money and a career thanks to her connections to a rich family. This novel shows the evolution of a woman who learns the sacrifices to find love and reach her dreams are based on a choice that was made on her behalf at her expense. The ties to the Ganyos threatens Afi and her mother, who desperately wants to keep Aunty happy since Aunty gave her her job and her humble home after her husband died. Afi’s mother depends heavily on Aunty, which means Afi needs to depend on Aunty and her every word. Afi is torn between what she wants from Eli, her allegedly lawful husband, and how her demands could impact her mother, her uncle, and other members of her family back at home where the Ganyos reign over the territory. The tug of war between her family and in-laws puts Afi in the middle, and she eventually decides to put herself first.
Overall, the story flows well with Afi becoming stronger only because she has to fight her family in the fight for love.