Even though she’s not met him, Afi Tekple agrees to marry Eli Ganyo, the son of Aunty Faustina Ganyo, Ho’s only wealthy businesswoman. Aunty has greatly assisted Afi and her widowed mother, Olivia, so she can hardly say no to her mission: win Eli’s affection away from Muna, a Liberian woman who the family believes has cast a spell over Eli—otherwise, how else would he have fallen for such an inappropriate companion?
The marriage doesn’t begin auspiciously—Eli marries Afi in absentia, and though he establishes her in an expensive, modern flat in Accra, she doesn’t see him for two months. Both her family and the Ganyos pressure her to be a perfect Ghanaian wife, but Afi finds it challenging when she never knows if her husband will be visiting for dinner.
Asking for more is also hard when Eli’s wealth improves the position of her greedy uncle, her aunts and cousins, and, most importantly, her mother, who works for Aunty, not to mention her own standing. When she returns to Ho to stay with her mother, she is shocked to remember the uncomfortable mattress and the baths that require boiling water. Everyone advises Afi to have patience, but with her happiness at stake, she must decide whether to conform to social convention or break with tradition and insist on a better life for herself.
While it seems Afi’s marriage offers a route out of poverty to infinite opportunities for herself and her family, her journey reveals the injustices of Ghanaian society in terms of gender, class, and education. As she realizes the constraints placed on her by family, society, and convention, Afi questions her own priorities and desires and how much she is willing to sacrifice for obedience.
In a relatively brief novel, Medie conveys a multi-layered story imbued with character development, cultural references, and frustratingly ill-behaved individuals. I wasn’t sure I was going to like Afi at first, but she became such a heroine to me, but the book also had different models of strong womanhood in Afi’s mother, cousin, teacher, and friend.
I recommend His Only Wife for readers who enjoy stories about empowered women, and also those who are interested in African Literature.
Thank you to Algonquin Booka for the advance reading copy!
Please see my Instagram Feed for a giveaway which ends 9/2/2020.