Stay With Me, Ayobami Adebayo
Published August 1, 2017
Set in Nigeria and spanning over a decade, Stay With Me is a powerful novel about marriage, loss, motherhood, tradition, and self-identity. It is a novel in which traditional Nigerian customs and culture come into conflict with modern Nigerian life. Yejide has been happily married to her husband Akin for four years-four years in which they have struggled to conceive. This is especially devastating as the culture centers a woman’s value around motherhood. Yejide longs to become a mother and fulfill her expected role, but their families are running out of patience.
Unbeknownst to Yejide, Akin has caved into familial pressure and taken a second wife. Polygamy is a common custom and there’s a long-held belief that one pregnancy in the household will lead to another. Yejide however, is enraged and devastated by this betrayal. She is determined to become pregnant before the second wife, and the events of the novel fall quickly like dominoes from here.
Stay With Me was continuously surprising. I often thought I knew were the story was headed, and I was always mistaken. These twists and turns were not unbelievable however, but were grounded in realism. As shocking as some of the events in the novel are, they never seem melodramatic or farfetched.
I also loved how Adebayo wove Nigeria’s sociopolitical history throughout the novel. The real life events and political upheaval provided context to the characters’ lives. Even in the wake of military coups, historic elections, and violence in the streets, everyday life continues.
Adebayo’s characters are so well-drawn-I was completely invested in their lives. For example, Yejidi’s hope, grief, and rage were painfully palpable. They are not perfect people, and at times are incredibly unlikable, but they always seemed real. I could understand where they were coming from even if I didn’t agree with their choices. The fact that we hear from both Yejidi and Akin’s perspectives meant that I could easily empathize with both of them, even if my loyalty often shifted at times. There is no clear right or wrong side here. The ending-while not perfect-was charged with hope.
Stay With Me packs a major punch, especially for a novel that is less than 300 pages. Adebeyo has infused so much emotion and created such vivid characters in not that many pages. The straightforward prose is powerful, but for me it was her characters that kept me turning the page and whom I didn’t want to leave behind. Stay With Me has earned its place as one of my favorite reads of the year. I still find myself thinking about the characters and imagine I will do so for a long time to come.
**A huge thank you to Netgalley and Knopf for the opportunity to read this ARC in exchange for an honest review**