Bailey's Prize, books, Debut Novel, People of Color, Reading, Women Writers

“Stay with Me” by Ayobami Adebayo

“I had expected them to talk about my childlessness. I was armed with millions of smiles. Apologetic smiles, pity-me smiles, I-look-unto-God smiles – name all the fake smiles needed to get through an afternoon with a group of people who claim to want the best for you while poking at your open sore with a stick – and I had them ready. I was ready to listen to them tell me I must do something about my situation. I expected to hear about a new pastor I could visit; a new mountain where I could go to pray; or an old herbalist in a remote village or town whom I could consult. I was armed with smiles for my lips, an appropriate sheen of tears for my eyes and sniffles for my my nose. I was prepared to lock up my hairdressing salon throughout the coming week to go in search of a miracle with my mother-in-law in tow. What I was not expecting was another smiling woman in the room, a yellow woman with a blood-red mouth who grinned like a new bride.”

31349579Yejide is a strong Nigerian woman, deeply in love with her husband Akin and desperate to become a mother. Motherhood is the ultimate goal and, to some, the soul purpose of being a woman.

“‘Have you ever seen God in a labour room giving birth to a child? Tell me, Yejide, have you seen God in the labour ward? Women manufacture children and if you can’t you are just a man. Nobody should call you a woman.'”

Yejide has tried everything – prayers, potions, promises – to no avail. And though she has internalized the belief that she MUST have a baby to truly be a woman, and though she comes from a polygamous family, Yejide is still blindsided when she is presented one day with her husband’s second wife. Mouth agape, heart aching, Yejide decides that the only way she can “save” her marriage is to finally get pregnant, at any cost. The ultimate cost to her life, her marriage, and her sense of self, however, is more than she could ever have imagined.

“Stay with Me” is story of trust and deception, of deeply intertwined lives and the desperate love of motherhood. Through the eyes of Yejide and Akin, the reader is shown the heights and depths of a marriage. Adebayo plays with the rules of engagement.

“[W]hat would be left of love without truth stretched beyond its limits, without those better versions of ourselves that we present as the only ones that exist?”

We see that both Yejide and Akin, in their desperation to cling together, stretch and bend and mar the truth, ultimately driving a wedge between them that seems too great to overcome. The love and loss and heartache of this couple’s struggles wear them, and the reader, down. Yejide begins to close herself off from the world; “I was not strong enough to love when I could lose again…”

“Stay with Me” is set within conflict and tumult in Nigeria, during the turbulent 80s and political upheaval. Though hints and whispers of this environment are dropped throughout the course of the novel, their incidence feels extraneous. I suppose the turmoil of the region is meant to mirror that of the protagonists’ marriage, but its connection to the story feels tenuous, almost as though it were overlaid as an afterthought, not woven deeply into the narrative. Other Nigerian writers, such as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in “Half A Yellow Sun”, have perhaps captured more adeptly the urgency of the moment and its indelible impact on everyday lives. That said, Aboyami Adebayo’s debut is brilliant. In it, Adebayo spins formidably complex emotional threads with clarity and simplicity. Her characters are beguiling and their heartaches are painfully real.

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