Peace Adzo Medie, HIS ONLY WIFE

Peace Adzo Medie, HIS ONLY WIFE

Zibby Owens: Welcome, Peace. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss your book, His Only Wife. Congratulations on the book.

Peace Adzo Medie: Thank you. Thanks so much for having me.

Zibby: It’s my pleasure. I have to say, I listened to this in the car on a bunch of drives that I did. I had it with all the kids in the car. I would listen back and forth, back and forth. Then I finally said, “You know what, guys? This is the book we’ve been listening to.” They were like, “It’s so short. What do you mean? We’ve been listening to it for hours.” It’s been a part of my family, so I’m happy to tell them that we’re finally doing this interview. Can you please tell listeners what His Only Wife is about? Also, what inspired you to write this book?

Peace: His Only Wife is a story of a young woman in Ghana. Her name is Afi. She is in an arranged marriage. It begins as Afi gets into an arranged marriage to a man. His name is Eli, very wealthy man. This is a marriage that has been arranged by Eli’s mother who is called Aunty. Aunty has arranged this marriage because she doesn’t approve of Eli’s partner. On one level, Afi has this task of bringing Eli closer to his family because the woman has come between Eli and family. On another level, this is a book about a young woman finding her voice, finding her place in the world, and coming to a place where she can speak about what it is that she wants. That is His Only Wife. I wrote the book for several reasons. One being that I’m very interested in how social pressures shape women’s lives. I do research on a variety of issues including on violence against women. I’ve done some fieldwork in Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire. I’ve spoken to survivors of violence. Something that came through in my interviews with them was how they wanted to leave abusive relationships, but they didn’t because people encouraged them to stay. People discouraged them from leaving, usually family and friends. That really got me thinking about the decisions that women make in relationships because of the pressures and the advice that they receive from the people around them.

Zibby: All very good things to investigate. I read this — this is going to sound so silly. Maybe not silly, just surprising I should say. There was an ad for a dog food company. In the ad, it said forty-seven percent of domestic abuse victims don’t leave because they don’t want to leave their pets. Isn’t that interesting? I just keep storing this fact away and repeating it because I find it so interesting that you can feel so trapped and so helpless and be in such an awful emotional and physical place and yet your allegiance to your pet is placed at a higher premium, almost, than your own mental and physical health. I found it very interesting.

Peace: I think it makes sense that if you’re in such a difficult position that something that brings you joy, something that brings you a bit of comfort, it’s something that would be very difficult to part with.

Zibby: Yes. I couldn’t part with my dog. Do you have dogs?

Peace: Not anymore.

Zibby: I just inherited a dog. I’m already in love with her after a month. Also, you were the Reese’s Book Club pick. It must have been so exciting. Was that even on horizon of things you were hoping would happen with this book? What happened when you found out? Tell me about that.

Peace: I hoped briefly before I ever knew. Then I thought, don’t even think about that. What are the chances that would happen? It was an extremely pleasant surprise. Honestly, I found out, and I had no idea what to do with myself. I was almost just frozen. I was like, what do you do with this information? I’m so, so happy. What do I do with this information? The Reese’s Book Club community, they’re just a wonderful community of book lovers. They have been so supportive in so many different ways. It’s been wonderful being the October Book Club pick.

Zibby: That’s exciting. I was watching you today because I was wondering if they had posted — our interview will air later, but a lot of places were airing their November picks today. I was on there and watching you give all the clues. I was thinking to myself, does Peace know the answer to this, or do they just give her clues? Do you know the answer, or did you just get the clues?

Peace: They just gave me the clues. Everyone, reading their responses, I was like, oh, okay. Is this what people think it is? I just know the clues.

Zibby: Everybody in the comments seemed to be pretty convinced it was one particular book, but I don’t know. They all wanted that free giveaway, I guess, so they hopped on the bandwagon.

Peace: We’ll find out today, I think.

Zibby: This book was so realistic, particularly the scenes where Afi was in the apartment just biding her time waiting for Eli to come visit. She didn’t know what to do. Luckily, she was able, through Richard and her family, to go take some sewing classes and go to different schools and all the rest. For a while, it was just her with the thick carpet and her mom, alone padding around and wondering if she should be dressed and ready and what was going to happen for her husband to show up, who she hadn’t even seen including at the wedding, which is crazy. Tell me about crafting that moment and that feeling. Did you have a period of time where you felt that same sense, that the minutes were so long? That’s how you made it feel for the character.

Peace: I’ve definitely felt like that when waiting for things to happen. I really wanted to communicate the things that women do for men and the sacrifices that women would make for men, including a woman like Afi who is ambitious, who is smart, but has been led to believe that she should make these sacrifices. She should be willing. She should be ready and prepared and perfect-looking all the time in order to please this man who she’s never even met officially since they’ve been married. In crafting that period in Afi’s life, I really wanted to show this excruciating detail of just waiting, and waiting because you’ve been led to believe this person is so important and you should give so much of yourself to this person.

Zibby: By the way, when Eli did finally arrive — as I said, I was listening in the car with the kids. They finally got together. My daughter was like, “Mom!” I turned it down. I was like, “I’m sure this scene’s almost over.” Then I turned it back up. They had gone out to the kitchen. Then you had them go back in the bedroom. It started again. She’s looking at me. I was like, “Okay, okay, okay, I’ll do it later.”

Peace: Oh, no! What have I done?

Zibby: I was so mortified. Mental note, don’t listen to this middle part in front of your kids. Part of the book, too, was not only her allegiance to Eli, but also the postmortem allegiance to her father. Her father passed away leaving the family in financial ruins. She had to live with her aunt and felt indebted to her aunt for a long time. This is part of why she wanted to repay the aunt. It’s the loss of not only her father, but also the lifestyle that her father provided and what it’s like to have been somewhat frivolous with her purchases and not really thinking. Then you had a whole thing where she’s like, if only I could go back and have a moment of those clothes that I didn’t care about or all of that and just hold onto those not knowing that they were about to go away. Tell me a little more about that element and the kind of fall from grace that can so easily happen.

Peace: A big part of this story is the class divide. I really wanted to show that. I’ve thought about it and said, would Aunty have proposed this marriage if Afi’s father was alive, if they were middle-class? I don’t think so. I think it’s because of the family’s financial situation. That is why Aunty felt bold enough to propose this marriage. I just really wanted to explore how economic disparities impact the decisions that women make, but also even how it shapes marriages. Then you have a relationship where one person has more power than the other because that person has the money and is therefore then able to call the shots. I really wanted, in small ways, to show how the death of Afi’s father and their financial fall was even driving the behavior of her mother. I think her mother would have been a very different woman if Afi’s father had been alive. I just really wanted to explore this and show how the change in their financial status was influencing them in different ways.

Zibby: And also how the mom and daughter’s different views on what a marriage should be affected their relationship. They used to be more like friends. Then as soon as she got married, it became a much more mother-daughter, I’m going to tell you what to do, you have to do this, a didactic-type relationship, and how a wedding, a relationship, as we all know, can seriously change your other relationships in unforeseen ways.

Peace: Yes, yes. A big part of it is Afi’s mother has an idea of what a marriage should be. Afi starts off disagreeing, but then agreeing, and then disagreeing. Definitely, along those lines, we see the relationship between Afi and her mother change in so many ways. I think it’s actually very realistic. Once money comes into the picture, a lot of our relationships tend to change.

Zibby: That too, yes, for sure. Are you married yourself? This is none of my business. You don’t have to answer. I’m wondering if you’re married, if your parents are married. What types of models for a marriage do you have in your own life?

Peace: Wonderful marriage. I think this book is unusual in two ways in that there’s an arranged marriage. I tell people that it’s actually not common, where I come from at least. A lot of it was me imagining what an arranged marriage would look like and what a person in an arranged marriage would feel. It’s also kind of a polygamous relationship where you have one man with multiple partners or wanting to have multiple wives, not entirely succeeding. That is also not as common as it used to be in Ghana. These relationships still exist, but they are not as common as they used to be. What I would say is that I’m not in an arranged or in a polygamous marriage. I’m very interested in these institutions. I’m very interested in why people are within these institutions, but also how they have changed and why they are changing. If I look at my grandmother’s generation, for example, there were more relationships or marriages with more than one partner, with more than one wife. In my generation, my parents’ generation, it’s become much less common. To me, it’s very interesting. It also says a lot about what women’s expectations are and what women are willing to accept within marriage as well in Ghana and I’m sure in many other places.

Zibby: Interesting. Tell me about the writing of this book. How long did it take you to write? What was your process like?

Peace: I began thinking about this book around 2010, 2011. I was finishing up my doctoral dissertation at Boston College. I was spending a lot of time just sitting at my desk trying to write the dissertation and graduate.

Zibby: By the way, I had this vision of you in Ghana writing with all the sights and sounds the way they are in the book. You’re in freezing cold Boston around the corner? That’s crazy. Okay, go on.

Peace: Some of the writing did happen in Ghana, but I began thinking about it when I was in Boston. Then I seriously began writing late 2012, early 2013. I was back in Ghana by then. It took me five years because I went back and started teaching at University of Ghana and still had a full-time job where I was doing academic research and writing, teaching, and everything else, but also writing fiction. I had a very hectic day. I’d wake up four in the morning, write fiction. Around six in the morning, I would switch to writing — I no longer do that, thankfully. Then switch to nonfiction around six. It was very demanding, but I really enjoyed it. I use fiction to relax. I use fiction to step back from my academic work. While they were very long days, it was very enjoyable.

Zibby: That’s good. What are you working on now?

Peace: I’m the final stages, I’m editing the second book manuscript. I was supposed to be done Monday morning. I told my agent I was going to send it to her yesterday morning, and I haven’t.

Zibby: It’s only Tuesday. It’s okay.

Peace: I’m finishing up that manuscript and excited about the third one.

Zibby: Wow. Can you give any previews as to what those two are about?

Peace: The second book is about friendship. It’s about two cousins who are very close. I’m very interested in how relationships come apart. It’s two cousins who are very close, but then they come apart over time. I explore why it is that this happens. I’m also interested in how two people can experience the same thing but think about it very differently. Two friends, they are both convinced that the other person is in the wrong. For me, that it just so interesting. Basically, it’s a book about friendship.

Zibby: Great. That sounds good. I’ve definitely been in situations where I’m convinced I’m right and perhaps I’m not, so that will be good. Do you have any advice to aspiring authors?

Peace: It’s important that you love what you’re writing. For me, that has worked really well because writing, it’s long hours, very demanding. I think that if you don’t love what you’re doing, if you don’t love the story that you are telling, I think it will be really tough to just stick with it for years and years. I’ve been working on this book, if I count editing, it’s almost nine years, almost ten years. I feel like if you don’t love the story, if you don’t love the characters, it will be hard to keep at it. Write the things that make you happy. Write the things that you love. Eventually, the writing will find its readers.

Zibby: That’s excellent advice. This book has certainly found a lot of readers, so that’s great, including me and apparently my kids. Thank you for all of our hours of entertainment in the car. Thank you for chatting with me today. Thanks for this beautiful story and all of its different elements that really made me think. Thanks.

Peace: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me. I’ve enjoyed chatting with you.

Zibby: You too. Have a great day.

Peace: Buh-bye.

Zibby: Buh-bye.

Peace Adzo Medie, HIS ONLY WIFE