Afi Tekple’s wedding is a rousing success in spite of the fact that the groom isn’t present. But that is to be expected of a young and wealthy businessman whose travels take him far from home on a routine basis, so important that even his own traditional wedding must yield to demands of business. The young Ghanaian seamstress, heroine of Peace Adzo Medie’s debut His Only Wife, is thrilled and proud to marry the son of the most powerful woman in her town and raise the fortunes of her widowed mother, her avaricious uncle and the wives he supports. But shortly after she takes up residence in Eli’s luxurious flat in Accra to await her husband’s arrival, Afi knows that something isn’t right. When she married, she had heard the whispers about ‘the woman’, a Liberian who Eli’s family loathe and are convinced put the favored son under some sort of spell. And so Afi is assigned the task of winning her husband away from ‘the woman’ and returning the errant Eli back into the arms of his loving and controlling family. Afi is more than ready to take on the task—she has her own family to look out for after all—and it seemingly easier when she finally meets Eli and falls in love with him. But just as it seems Afi is proving her worth to Eli’s family and gaining entry into his heart, she is opening her eyes to the world beyond. Accra is teeming with opportunity for those who have the heart to seize it, and Afi is discovering that the city is a perfect fit for her budding ambitions. Putting to use her skills and networking with the powerful friends of Eli’s circle, Afi begins to build a life for herself. With a career, the love of a wealthy man and the support of Accra’s elite, Afi appears to be living the fairy tale. But is the fairy tale enough when there is deception at the core of her marriage?
His Only Wife is billed as an African version of Crazy Rich Asians, and like the women of that book and film, Afi has to fight against entrenched practices like polygamy, classism and sexism in her culture. There’s also the sort of Cinderella element at first, with descriptions of newly found wealth, fashions and the swinging lifestyle in a thriving city. Medie is a taut writer that forgoes prose styling in favor of propulsive plotting, making this a fast and entertaining read. Afi is a character well worth rooting for, and it’s a delight to see Accra through her eyes. Medie gives shorter shrift to some of the supporting characters, many of whom seem to have promising backstories of their own that go unexplored. Eli’s motivations and feelings, in particular, feel a little underdeveloped. Still, His Only Wife is an entertaining debut with a great heroine at its center and a wonderful sense of place. Recommended for fans of pop fiction in general.