Afi Tekple and her mother are made homeless and driven to poverty following the untimely death of her civil servant father. Denied of any inheritance by the greedy and opportunistic Uncle Pious, they are rescued by Aunty Faustina, the matriarch of the Ganyo family who puts them up and gives Afi’s mother a job at her flour distribution depot.
Mother and daughter essentially owe their wellbeing to Aunty such that when she makes a proposal requesting that Afi marries her rich, business mogul son Elikem (Eli), it is both a gift that changes their realities and an opportunity to pay back Aunty for all she had done for them.
But it is not the usual arranged marriage which is not strange in African societies. Afi has a higher responsibility put on her shoulders. Her husband Elikem is entangled with his Liberian mistress, Muna who his family disapproves of and with whom he has a daughter. Afi’s marriage to him was to wrestle him away from the grips of Muna who they paint as a diabolic, ugly and uncultured woman who cannot take care of her own child and has cast a spell on their son.
From the outset, it is clear that the marriage was a strange arrangement. Eli, the groom is absent at his own traditional marriage ceremony. Afi, the naïve seamstress who has lived most of her life in rural Ghana is married off to an older more sophisticated man she hardly knew, and had barely met. She wonders about her future, this problem she has been selected to solve and worries about even meeting up to the requirements of being a wife to a Ganyo. Her doubts are mediated, for the most part, by the palpable joy of her mother, the reassurance of Aunty and the other Ganyos (Yaya and Richard) and the encouragement of her closest cousin, Mawusi.
After moving to Accra where her husband lives, she is esconced in a fancy apartment where she was to wait for her husband to come to her. It will be many weeks before he appears. During this time, Afi, leverages the Ganyo connections to begin attending a fashion design school to fulfil her dreams. When Eli finally shows up, appearing first at intervals and then more frequently, they fall into a fairytale romance which leads to her becoming pregnant. While Afi had succeeded in establishing herself as Elikem Ganyo’s wife, even bearing him a son, she never succeeded at the other mission of taking the Liberian mistress out of the picture. Indeed, Muna continued to live with him, in his main house.
Afi must take brave but decisive actions to force Elikem’s hand and change the situation, ensuirng she moves into the main house to take her position as his wife. For a period, after the birth of their son, it seemed she was living the fairy tale life, graduating from her design school, starting her own outlet while enjoying the love and care of her husband. An incident will however bring her to the sudden realisation that she was living a lie forcing her to make even braver decisions to assert herself and break free from the emotional entanglements and deceit that had left her living to fulfil the desires of others.
Peace Medie in this exciting debut delivers at once, an exciting and compelling story complete with humour, love and the many ramification of life in contemporary Ghana while also highlighting the many other challenges of life on the continent including sexism, classism and patriarchy. It is also a story about the influence of our extended families, the idea of having a duty to family and how money can dramatically transform people’s lives.
The prose is easy and free flowing, delivered in simple but engaging language. The characters are exciting and the transition in Afi’s character from a naïve young lady to a confident woman, determined to live life on her own terms was well handled to Medie’s credit.
Described as the‘Crazy rich Asians for West Africa’, His Only Wife ticks all the right boxes and is a worthy addition to the collection of every keen lover of African stories.
Peace Adze Medie | Parresia Publishing, 2020 | 262 pages.
Sylva Nze Ifedigbo is the author of My Mind Is No Longer Here. He is available on twitter at @nzesylva