MOZAMBIQUE: The First Wife by Paulina Chiziane

For reading more about Mozambique this month, I picked up a copy of book by Paulina Chiziane, the first woman to publish a novel in that country. Her writings are heavily focused on social issues, gender, and feminism, and this delivers with The First Wife: A Tale of Polygamy.

Set in present-day Mozambique, The First Wife follows Rami, the wife of a police chief, who discovers that her husband has been having affairs with not one, but four other women. Rami is unsurprisingly distressed, but in a very patriarchal society, her options are limited and she doesn’t want to lose her husband. She reaches out to the other women and effectively unionizes them into a traditional polygamous marriage to force the husband into line – with all the accompanying emotional turmoil.

It’s a wonderfully challenging book – the feelings of betrayal, guilt, jealousy, and second-guessing, as well as triumph and love, are richly rendered. It’s a feminist novel, but from an African feminist perspective, not a Western one. It’s about a woman moving inside and fighting against her societal structures, and has deep things to say about betrayal, relationships, post-colonial tradition, and solidarity between women.

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