'His Only Wife' Is a Refreshingly Modern Ghanaian Love Story

"Afi is a worthy heroine, unwilling to yield to the patriarchal forces that threaten her spirit."

his only wife by peace adzo medie
(Image credit: Design By Morgan McMullen)

If there's one thing the #ReadWithMC community agreed on about Peace Adzo Medie's debut novel, His Only Wife, it's that the world received a much-needed contemporary Ghanaian love story—even if it didn't seem so at first—with complex characters.

Medie begins with a line that compels you to continue reading: "Elikem married me in absentia; he did not come to our wedding." From there, she proceeds to outline the complicated relationship between Afi, a young seamstress in Ghana, and the family who has convinced her to marry a man she doesn't know, Elikem, with a promise of wealth (after her father died, she and her mother were left in poverty) and the ability to accomplish her dreams. In reality, Afi and Elikem's arranged marriage is a way to convince Elikem to get rid of the other woman in his life, whom his family disapproves of.

While some #ReadWithMC reviewers thought the book was a slower read (others felt quite differently!), overall they recommend His Only Wife and can't wait to see what comes next from Medie. Read the full reviews of Marie Claire's October book club pick, below. 

"I recently read His Only Wife by @peacemedie and I could not put it down! The novel follows Afi, who lives in a small town in Ghana. We learn that with her father’s death, Afi and her mother struggled financially and relied on other relatives to get by. However, an unexpected opportunity comes up that will potentially change the course of Afi and her mother’s lives: a marriage proposal from the wealthy Elikem Ganyo, a man she does not know but whose family has helped provide for Afi and her mother. Despite her own reservations AND marrying a stand-in at their wedding, Afi moves to the bigger city of Accra to presumably live with Eli. The problem? Eli is in love with another woman, and his marriage to Afi was meant to draw him away from that other woman and bring him closer to his family.

I loved seeing how all the relationships played out in this story, and not just the romantic ones. The women in the story are portrayed so complexly and you see how they’ve each adjusted to or fought against their individual situations despite societal pressures put upon them. I liked how Eli was a nuanced character, even if it was really easy to hate him at times. The book also explores class differences and the different expectations for men and women in relationships, particularly when it comes to polygamy. I don’t often read books portraying polygamy, but I enjoyed reading how Afi navigated this new relationship while also finding her voice and fulfilling her own needs and desires." —@wheresdabooks

"'Afi, don’t forget who you are. You are not an actress and this is not a romance film. This is not one of those telenovelas you and Mawusi have been watching. This is real life. This is our life. You will get to know him and like him. That is how it is.'

Afi is a young girl whose father’s untimely death has left her and her mother in poverty, dependent on the generosity of her relatives—or the lack thereof. When an almost magical opportunity presents itself from 'Aunty,' an esteemed, wealthy woman in town to marry her handsome, successful son Eli, Afi cannot believe her good fortune. There are. however, strings attached: Eli is in a relationship with Muna and has a daughter Ivy with her. But Eli’s family is insistent that Muna is not a good match for their beloved son and brother. They claim that she is not a good mother, mocks their traditions, and refuses to have a relationship with them. All Afi needs to do is get Eli away from this destructive influence, this girlfriend. After all, Afi will be his only wife.

Afi’s mother urges her forward in this proposal, desperate for the financial security that this marriage will provide for herself and Afi. The extended family eagerly embraces it as well, as they too will benefit from this wealthy connection. Ali married Eli in absentia as his brother Richard stands in for him during the wedding ceremony. Even though this presents the first nagging doubt, Afi steps forward into her new life.

Afi moves to Accra, the capital of Ghana. When Eli finally appears, Afi must navigate how to share a man, a man she realizes she is falling in love with and who continues to conduct a relationship with Muna simultaneously. The pressure of his family and her entire community are upon her as Afi suffers the indignity of having the intimate details of her relationship dissected and discussed. Somewhere along the way, Afi must find the courage and the will to listen to her own voice, embrace her talent as a seamstress, and celebrate her own worth as a woman.

Afi is a worthy heroine, unwilling to yield to the patriarchal forces that threaten her spirit. This is simply a shining, stunning debut novel." —@suzylew_bookreview

"Phewww okay this ending had me fuming! I mean granted, the Ganyo family drove me crazy throughout this whole book, BUT THE ENDING?? I would’ve allowed Afi to be acquitted from murder, but I guess it was happy for her nonetheless.

Afi is married into the Ganyo family for two reasons: 1: Aunty G has been 'generous' (quotes because she did everything quid pro quo—the other party just wouldn’t know) with Afi and her mother a majority of her life since her father passed away and 2: the family wanted to get rid of Muna, Eli’s first wife.

Without giving much away, the family and her mother basically hold Afi responsible for keeping her husband in check. But mind you, IT'S A MIND FUCK ROLLERCOASTER!!! Even after she and the husband first meet officially ON PAGE 72 (WHICH IS AFTER THEIR WEDDING!!) he still goes back and forth between her and his first wife. The response? 'What are you doing wrong?' 'Are you cooking his favorite dish?' 'It’s because you’re not good in bed.' 'He is fighting demons, his first wife cast a spell on him.'

They do not once hold this grown man accountable for his actions; instead the blame was deflected on the woman. Even when she got pregnant with THEIR SON, things did not change. There were some happy moments in here, don’t get me wrong. But ugh ugh ugh MOMS STOP MAKING EXCUSES FOR YOUR SONS!!!!

I totally recommend this read. It is a bit slow and repetitive in some parts, but its overall message gets across (the biggest one of all being that this is why God has never put me in these situations.)." —@camreviewsbooks

"'Elikem married me in absentia; he did not come to our wedding.' When I read those words, I thought surely this novel was set in the past because who does that in the present. While the book is set in the past, it's not in the distant past. It's 2014.

The bride, Afi, has been given a mission by the family of her betrothed—force the breakup of your husband and his girlfriend and return him to the family fold. That's not a small order, is it? But it seems a small price to pay for all Aunty Faustina Ganyo has done for Afi and her mother. And it's a win-win for Afi. She gets to leave her small town for Accra and an opportunity to study fashion design. Indeed, a small price to pay for marrying someone you've only met in passing and never with the intention of marrying him.

Initially, I thought His Only Wife might be reminiscent of Lola Shoneyin's The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives, but that notion is quickly disavowed with Afi's arrival in Accra. While the author's description of Afi's life back in her home town is full of family members and detailed descriptions of their personalities, their backgrounds, etc., giving readers a chance to get to know them, descriptions of the people she meets in Accra tend to be more superficial. I never really felt like I got to know them, so I had difficulty determining if their motives were sincere.

I think I expected more of His Only Wife than the author was able to give. Afi reads more like an impressionable early teen than an adult woman. Her story line is steady in some parts and rushed in others. It's the rushed parts that needed more detail and consistency to give the book some balance." —@readincolour

"This book was so frustrating in the best way. I hated half the characters because of their indifference or neglect of the main character, Afi. But even though I couldn’t understand them, it made me connect with Afi in so many different ways that I may not have otherwise.

I learned about a culture I didn’t understand, sometimes empowering women to own their own businesses and to think for themselves, but sometimes not by calling a woman irrational based on her husband's actions or standing up to her mother-in-law. It also made me pause to think about what people tell you may not be even close to the truth as long as it served their own purpose. I loved that at the end she was able to do what was right for herself, instead of listening to her leaching uncle and the omniscient 'people' who would talk about her." —@llcoolbooks

"'Elikem married me in absentia; he did not come to our wedding.'

Dear Afi, when your husband didn’t show up to the wedding that should have been your first clue that 'something something just ain’t right.' Stayed up late to finish this book. My emotions were in shambles. Crazy situation all around that I will never understand, but I was proud of Afi in the end for standing up for herself.

Recommended for those looking for a complex but entertaining marriage story." —@cortingbooks

"His Only Wife by Peace Adzo Medie is a book centered around a Ghanian woman and her community. This book is a work of fiction and will interest you from the first line. The story is unique and will make you fall in love with the writing.

The story matured along with the protagonists. The women in the community were so adamant and unique with their age. We could see the different set of minds—Afi's mother didn't bother to get her married to a man who was in love with other women. Eli's mother was so adamant and got him married to Afi. These choices made their life miserable.

We get to know profoundly about the Ghanaian people in this book. Afi is courageous, ambitious, and loves people. She wants their love back in return. You can understand the women's struggle in her marriage, her emotions, what she wants to become rather than whom she has to be? A realistic fiction which should be read by all.

The book will interest you if you like books centered around strong-willed women both in personal and career life. Can you believe that this is a debut book and a beautiful one in that? If you like the book Kim Ji-young, Born 1982, you will also like this book." —@jenifer_reads

"Afi Tekpl is a 21-year-old seamstress living in a small town in Ghana with her mother. After the death of her father, everything up under her was ripped away. Until the Ganyo's arrange a marriage for her that changes her whole life. The one problem? The man she is to marry is with another woman that the Ganyo's believe is tearing their relationship with their son Eli apart. The Ganyo's tell Afi and her mother that the other woman is ugly, muscular, an alcoholic, and an unfit mom.

Throughout Afi's marriage, she learns that she's not the only woman that Eli loves and that some things just won't change. Afi has to gain a voice and not settle for anything if she wants things to change—not just in her household but for the Ganyo's as well.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I loved the dialogue between the characters once Afi finally started speaking her mind. As far as the uncle, I could not stand him. He was a greedy old man who just annoyed me whenever he spoke. Though I enjoyed this book, some parts were very slow-paced, especially in the beginning." —@laliesbookshelf

"I need more eyes on this book!! I am not seeing it enough on my feed and I am kinda mad. 'Marriage shouldn’t be a never-ending competition where you spend your life fighting to be seen and chosen.' @peacemedie debut novel His Only Wife is a book you will read and continue to think about for months to come. The story opens up in a small town in Ghana, we meet Afi Tekple, a young seamstress who is about to get married to a man she has never met. What’s more is the man does not show up to their wedding because he is on a business trip.

How did Afi end up in this predicament? Afi’s dad died and her mother was unable to provide for her and they lived on the charity of Aunty Ganyo. They felt so indebted to Aunty Ganyo so when she suggested that Afi marry her son, Elikem Ganyo, her mother forced her to say yes! Afi ends up marrying Eli, moving to Accra to live in a fancy new apartment, having a driver to take her around, and starting her apprenticeship as a fashion designer—all while waiting to meet her husband Eli for the first time. Afi is well aware that Eli has another 'woman' and a child who he lives with close by, but she is married to him and there are some expectations for a marriage.

You have to learn to fight for your husband and never let your guard down. Basically, Afi meets and falls in love with Eli and sends their entire marriage trying to please and keep him. It is exhausting to say the least. I was enamoured with this book from the beginning. I LOVE books that are set in Ghana and I have such an affinity for Ghana’s culture. I wanted to inhale this book. I felt the premise was strong and the execution equally as strong. I loved that it was contemporary Ghana and a love story. The writer did such a great job of taking us in to the marriage of Eli and Afi and I didn’t want to leave. If you are looking for a fresh, contemporary Ghanaian read, this is it!" —@bookofcinz

"'I picked up the fork again and tried to imitate Yaya by twisting it in the plate until there was a roll of pasta on it. #HisOnlyWife

Yes, yes, yes!! I was snapping my fingers in the air while finishing up this contemporary Ghanaian debut novel by @peacemedie. It's about Afi, a young woman from a small town in Ghana who is wed in absentia in the first sentence. Way to start off this story! I was hooked from that first line. We get to know Afi and her groom-in-absentia, Elikem or Eli, and follow their relationship and marriage. It's such a vivid and colorful cast of characters, from moms and mother-in-laws to uncles and aunties and everyone in between. You know in big families, EVERYONE has something to say about a marriage!

I have to say one of my favorite characters was Evelyn. I won't even say much about Evelyn because I don't want to give anything away, but I think between Afi and Evelyn, we see the complexities of navigating relationships. Through both of these women, we see there isn't one path to happiness and that how we define things for ourselves is what is ultimately the most important. Afi in this book has the kind of growth I love to see in a character. I could not put this book down and while it's so fun and full of drama, it tackles so many social issues as well! Bravo! I also listened to part of this on audio and it was FANTASTIC. Cannot wait to read whatever comes next from Peace Adzo Medie!!" —@readtotheend

"His Only Wife follows the story of Afi Tekple, a young seamstress in Ho who is chosen by the wealthy Ganyo family to marry their son, Elikem, in a bid to get him out of the clutches of another woman. What ensues is an unconventional and unexpected love story, a collision of worlds, an awakening to new possibilities, the search for one’s identity, being true to oneself and creating your own destiny while navigating the demands of family and societal expectations. This novel is authentically Ghanaian and gave me vibes similar to Ama Ata Aidoo’s Changes, but set in contemporary Ghana.

I found it unputdownable, refreshing in its Ghanaian-ness depicted through the vivid descriptions of the food, the places, the language, and the people. Straightforward without being predictable and with realistic and relatable characters, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and was sad when it ended. I can’t wait to read more from @peacemedie." —@bookwormingh

Missed out on our October book club pick? In November, we're reading Emily Danforth's gothic horror-comedy, Plain Bad Heroines. Read an excerpt from the book here.


the night she disappeared

(Image credit: Design by Morgan McMullen)

plain bad heroines

(Image credit: Design by Hanna Varady)
Rachel Epstein

Rachel Epstein is a writer, editor, and content strategist based in New York City. Most recently, she was the Managing Editor at Coveteur, where she oversaw the site’s day-to-day editorial operations. Previously, she was an editor at Marie Claire, where she wrote and edited culture, politics, and lifestyle stories ranging from op-eds to profiles to ambitious packages. She also launched and managed the site’s virtual book club, #ReadWithMC. Offline, she’s likely watching a Heat game or finding a new coffee shop.