Stay with Me: a novel by Ayobami Adebayo.
Knopf, Penguin Random House, New York, 2017.
Realistic fiction, 260 pages.
Stay with Me is the story of a marriage, a love match gone wrong. It asks how much we’re willing to, or will sacrifice for family, for ourselves, for our partner, for a child.
This book is a rollercoaster in all the best ways. I don’t entirely know how to explain. The love and marriage of Yejide and Akin are the center of the book, but this isn’t really a romance novel. Rather, this book reads like an impossible true story.
It sounds like it wouldn’t work. But Adebayo pulls it off. Basically, this book looks at what infertility, infidelity, and the death of a child can do to a marriage and a family. Yejide and Akin are centered in Akin’s traditional Yoruba family. Yejide initially loves this because she has been rejected by her own family.
While they are more modern than the rest of their family, wanting a monogamous marriage, they are still able to balance their traditional culture with their own views… until it becomes clear that they aren’t having any children. Then both partners follow different solutions, without necessarily communicating about them, and while getting more and more desperate.
Adebayo balances the tension in this book on a knife. The narrative is primarily carried by Yejide, but occasional sections are narrated by Akin from his perspective. The book opens in 2008, but quickly goes back in time to 1985, after Akin and Yejide had been married for four years. So we slowly unfold what has happened, and why. Yejide has been invited to a funeral back home, prompting her thoughts on the past.
In this type of book, the author needs to reveal information to catch our interest, but then reading about the actual events needs to exceed that interest. And the whole thing should feel natural. I appreciated Adebayo’s decision to allow Yejide’s voice to carry the story. Adebayo is content to show his side mainly through his words and actions as reported by Yejide. His sections are present throughout the book, but not forced to fit a particular pattern or length.
As an American, I found it fascinating that polygamy was the baseline normal of Yejide and Akin’s culture, since here it is illegal. This came home to me on page 6, “Iya Martha was one of my four mothers; she had been my father’s oldest wife.” However the pressures of an infertile, monogamous marriage are also part of the problem. Akin is told very directly to take a second wife. Meanwhile, Yejide frantically tries anything she can to get pregnant, seeing a child as the key to saving their marriage.
Funerals also play an important part throughout the book, from the funeral bringing Akin and Yejide to the same city once again, to an important funeral that took place before the book begins. We, sadly, learn a lot about Yoruba and Nigerian funeral customs over a long period of time and variety of circumstances.
There aren’t many fiction books about Sickle Cell Disorder. Since this part is later in the book, I’ll just comment that it was heart-wrenching. I haven’t known many people with Sickle Cell (and they’re all here in present-day America) but what little I know seemed accurately presented.
Spoiler Trigger Warnings: This novel contains some pretty intense scenes about pseudocyesis. Children die, couples divorce and/or separate, there is infertility, infidelity, impotence, scarification, and sudden death of uncertain cause.
I’d love to read an #ownvoice review of this book, specifically about the Nigerian, Yoruba, or Sickle Cell representation. For now, I’m going to highly recommend it. Adebayo is an author to watch.