by Tryphena Yeboah
Written as a part of our Tiny Review Series
“I had been married for almost eight weeks and there was still no husband by my side! How in the world was I going to turn things around when I wasn’t even being given the chance?”
There are two kinds of women characters in Peace Medie’s His Only Wife: those who succumb to a preconception of who they ought to be, and those who defy oppressive standards. Peace Medie portrays the gender bias inherent in Ghana’s traditional norms, not so much to reinforce it but to expose how deep this discrimination goes, even at the family level. These norms dominate the text as women’s dreams and hopes grow against cultural norms that seek to belittle them. Their voices are prominent and resolute, striking down narratives of subservience and of womanhood so resigned to settling that they almost lose sight of themselves.
His Only Wife’s protagonist is Afi Tekple, a young Ghanaian seamstress. Afi finds herself in an arranged marriage to Eli Ganyo, a wealthy businessman who is the most successful among his three brothers. Eli is driven, generous, and prepared to turn around the hardship of Afi’s family—perhaps to a fault; he misses his wedding for a business trip while his family calls the shots in his absence. The grandeur of wealth suddenly takes over the world of the new bride. Yet, amid this fairytale-like transition, Afi does not settle for an absent husband. To the shock of Eli’s family, she does not allow her marriage to be dictated by anyone but her husband and herself.
Medie’s fiction is clear, concise, and alive with the vibrant Ghanaian setting. The cultural environment is a backdrop against which characters evolve and wrestle with expectations. Social norms, including women being pressured into marriage at a certain age and the normative importance of childbirth, are explored. The results are not surprising, and perhaps what the reader will find is just how much power a society wields and the unfortunate consequence of resisting such power.
Medie weaves a real portrait of two families and their compromised values, the power relations between the rich and poor, and the underlying fear and manipulated obligations that pit relatives against each other. The sense of helplessness portrayed in some characters who find themselves at the mercy of the rich pushes the novel beyond a mere conflicted love story. His Only Wife interrogates cultural norms by forcefully depicting women characters like Afi who are unafraid to stand for themselves and fight, even if it means losing so much of what has been given them.
Medie nudges the reader—not gently, but urgently and out of necessity—to see the possibilities and dimensions of womanhood and how far a woman will go, how radically she will act, to stand up for herself. It is almost as if with every word, every point of Afi’s awareness and resistance, Medie makes a clearing gesture, creating room for the kind of women rising in these present times: strong and audacious; a threat to any system that aims to diminish them, and most importantly, complete and certain in who they are, who they’ve always been.
Tryphena Yeboah is a fellow in Creative Writing at Chapman University. She grew up in Ghana. Her fiction has appeared in Narrative Magazine, and her poetry chapbook was selected by Kwame Dawes for inclusion in the New-Generation African Poets series from Akashic Books.