Co-wives, Co-widows by Adrienne Yabouza | Book Review

Adrienne Yabouza is a writer from the Central African Republic (CAR). She worked as a hairdresser for many years in the capital of CAR, Bangui. Currently Adrienne dedicates her time to writing books for children and adults in French, Sango, Yakoma, and Lingala. As a young woman she fled the civil war in CAR with her five children, first travelled to the Republic of Congo, and then to France where she gained political asylum.

Co-wives, Co-widows tells a story of two women Ndongo Passy and Grekpoubou who live in a rather fulfilling polygamous marriage with the man called Lidou. When their husband dies, the bond between these women becomes stronger, they deeply care for each other and their children in the face of injustice resulting from the misogynistic social and cultural norms.

This book explores the issue of love, family bonds, female friendship within the context of polygamous relationship. Two main female characters in the book, the title co-wives, co-widows support each other, they want the best for one another and their shared children. When both women become widows, they both fight against external social and political factors to ensure their financial stability, safe home life, and their shared family future. They become like ‘sisters’ for each other.

Polygamy in the context of the Central African Republic is presented in a very different manner to what we often read in books or articles. Even tough we always have to be wary when it comes to ‘a danger of a single story’ and to using one story to create one singular perception of the entire society or culture. Certainly, Co-wives, Co-widows provides us with a different perspective and forces us to reflect on the complexity of human experience.

This book is also the exploration of how external forces such as wide-spread corruption, political turmoil can shape the lives of the ordinary people often preventing them from living a fulfilling and safe life – a theme which is very universal in many works of fiction across various cultures and societies.

When it comes to female friendship in Co-wives, Co-widows, two main female characters, Ndongo Passy and Grekpoubou are caring, loving, very resourceful and strong headed. The death of their husband does not affect their relationship in a negative way. The opposite happens. Their loving bond rapidly grows as we witness them fighting injustices imposed on them and their children. Their bond exists regardless of the presence of a male figure in their lives – they have created a unique relationship and support system based on respect, care for one another, dignity, and love to ensure their mutual personal growth.

Despite hardships and injustices, they experience following their husband’s death, Ndongo Passy and Grekpoubou are not presented as victims in this book. They find their own way to exist within the parameters of the society they were born into.

Co-wives, Co-widows is a reflection of certain aspects of the society of which Ndongo Passy and Grekpoubou are part of. For the reader in the anglophone world reading this little book by Adrienne Yabouza is an extraordinary experience. Writing is delightful, full of references to local culture, with the usage of dry-wit humour.

The portrayal of women in Co-wives, Co-widows by Adrienne Yabouza reminds me of another great book called ‘Distant View of A Minaret’ by the Egyptian writer, Alifa Rifaat (1930 – 1996).

Distant View of A Minaret is a collection of short stories depicting life of women living within the traditional Muslim society. The main themese in these stories are marriage, death, sexual fulfilment and relationship between husband and wife from woman’s perspective and portrayed within the norms and moral values of Islam.

Rifaat dealt with those themes with an enormous level of frankness that I have not seen in many books.

It shows women who have views, opinions but still within a religious conservative framework which is far from the feminist philosophical thought as understood in the Western world.

In some way Co-wives, Co-widows is similar in that it presents the perception of caring as well as strong headed women within the framework that’s very different to the liberal view developed in the Western world, and often thought as incompatible when it comes to women’s rights.

I have enjoyed Co-wives, Co-widows book tremendously. Adrianne Yabouza wrote a gem of a book which is a unique literary gift to better understanding of the diversity and richness of human experience. I would love to read more books and experience more voices from the Central African Republic. I highly recommend this book to those who wish to explore diverse reading and unique perspective on society and cultural richness.



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