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the Complete Review
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Co-wives, Co-widows

Adrienne Yabouza

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To purchase Co-wives, Co-widows

Title: Co-wives, Co-widows
Author: Adrienne Yabouza
Genre: Novel
Written: 2015 (Eng. 2021)
Length: 124 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Co-wives, Co-widows - US
Co-wives, Co-widows - UK
Co-épouses et co-veuves - Canada
Co-épouses et co-veuves - France
directly from: Dedalus
  • French title: Co-épouses et co-veuves
  • Translated by Rachael McGill

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Our Assessment:

B : appealingly upbeat

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
TLS . 17/6/2022 Tadzio Koelb

  From the Reviews:
  • "Adrienne Yabouza’s novel counters the injustice it describes with a democratic approach to narrative. The third-person narration is so diffused that even the most transitory characters are given voice. (...) This absurdist stance -- semantic and syntactic -- gives Co-wives its charm, but also makes it feel underpowered for its political tasks, from which it too often seeks refuge behind the marriage plot. Rachael McGill’s translation –- the first of a book from the Central African Republic into English -– is readable, but feels rushed." - Tadzio Koelb, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The co-wives, co-widows of the title of Adrienne Yabouza's novel are Ndongo Passy and Grekpoubou. Ndongo Passy is the first wife of Lidou, and has one son by him; Grekpoubou is the second wife, and she has four children. The novel opens on election day in Bangui, the Central African Republic capital, with everyone in this harmonious household in a good mood. The two wives are excited about going to vote for the first time, while Lidou basks in the success of his construction business -- "Business was good: he was throwing up building after building in the Republic, and he'd carry on for as long as the Congolese and Cameroonian cement lasted" --, even if he's unsure about whether he wants to go to the polls as well, worried that the presidential election, with its five candidates, is: "Like having to choose between five serious illnesses" (even though it's pretty much a rigged game for the incumbent, the other four candidates on the ballot for little more than appearances).
       Almost fifty, Lidou still feels very much in the prime of life -- but finds his body isn't entirely keeping up with his ambitions, at least in one particular regard. He recently got his hands on some Cialis, which revved him up nicely -- "exhausting his wives for two nights, two more nights, then two more" -- but was perhaps more than he could handle: when they return from casting their ballots, the co-wives find that Lidou is dead.
       Zouaboua, a cousin of Lidou, soon arrives on the scene and takes charge -- including taking the corpse to a hospital, where he slips a doctor some money to produce an affidavit suggesting: "the probability of death by poisoning to be very high". He wants to push the women and their kids out of the compound, and take it over for himself, and while he can't quite bully them into submission, he plays dirty enough to get most of what he wants. The co-widows do what they can, but it only gets them so far. They take their case to court, but in a system that is deeply corrupt they only stand so much of a chance.
       The co-widows do admirably stick together, mutually supportive in these difficult times. Even when a knight in shining armor comes for one of the women, she insists that the other also be taken care of. Justice may not be entirely served here, but the women and their families fare quite well.
       Co-wives, Co-widows is a fairly simple story, unfolding and resolved rather quickly and rather easily-neatly. Still, there's quite some appeal to Yabouza's presentation, not least in some sly digs about the endemic corruption in the country, beginning with the presidential elections -- such as when she notes that the election results haven't been announced yet, but: "the president of the Independent Electoral Commission had already bought himself a speedy 4x4". There are some nice turns of phrase to the writing, too, as when Lidou's son first comes upon the dead man, who looks like he is sleeping:

     'What is it, Dad ?'
     Lidou made no reply.. He wasn't sulking; he was just one of those dead people who doesn't speak.
       While there are injustices in the novel, the co-widows do not pout; instead, they take the initiative where possible, and make the best of their situation -- ultimately rewarded with a very comfortable situation (and at least a small measure of revenge against Zouaboua). For a novel with a tragedy at its heart -- Lidou's death -- it is a very positive and upbeat story. Moving so quickly that it can feel a bit bare-bones, Co-wives, Co-widows is somewhat basic but still a quite charming read.

- M.A.Orthofer, 16 December 2021

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Co-wives, Co-widows: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of books from Africa

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About the Author:

       Author Adrienne Yabouza, from the Central African Republic, was born in 1965.

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© 2021-2022 the complete review

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