Book Review: Stay With Me by Ayòbámi Adébàyò

Book cover image of Stay With Me.

“If the burden is too much and stays too long, even love bends, cracks, comes close to breaking”

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This gem of a debut has been languishing on my book shelf for over a year. It was my bookish friend who ordered me convinced me to give it a chance in only the way a bookish friend can (thanks Suzie!) and I’m so glad I did!

What I Liked

There was so much emotion, and culture, and wit, and beauty in this book that I couldn’t put it down at first. There are several popular titles that address the issues women face in Nigeria where it comes to polygamous marriage, motherhood, and fertility, and I feel that Stay With Me is successful in approaching this in a way that stands out, whilst still retaining a sense of authenticity.

The characters were complex and interesting and my heart broke for them more than once throughout the story. By the end, the characters I thought I sympathised with the most had changed completely. Several reviews I have read were quite harsh towards Akin but I felt that he did go some way in acknowledging his wrongs.

The political backdrop to this domestic drama added a healthy realism and tension to the plot. Adébàyò was skilful in showing how politics frames our lives and helps to shape out world. Like many women, Yedije showed little interest in politics and voting beyond what would directly impact her. Her perception shift coincided with a decision to vote; she symbolically started to take control as best she could at a time where everything spiralled out of control.

🎧The audio narration was fantastic. I really enjoyed hearing the Yoruba. And some of the wit and emotion landed so much better than it would have with my inaccurate intonation. The audio made it so much more enjoyable (I have the book as well).

What I Liked Less:

Unfortunately, I didn’t take to the last part of the book. I found Yedije completely and utterly frustrating. There was a complete lack of accountability on her part and I didn’t feel that she actually learned anything, despite the time that passed and everything that transpired. I was screaming at her to do several things differently. Or at least admit that she was a teeny-weeny bit wrong for what she did.

Also, that last part of the book seemed so much more focused on the physical act of sex and the drama of it all than the real issues and complex feelings that came as a result of this importance on marriage and fertility. There was a valid conversation to be had but I felt it was aimed at being shocking rather than introspective. After reading this I didn’t want to see the word penis or any associated imagery again for a few days.

Verdict:

This is a heart-searing debut with some spectacular prose and fascinating insight into Nigerian culture. It is well deserving of the recognition it received.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐/5

TW: Violence, loss, death, marking of a dead body (off page). Please note that some of these trigger warnings involve children.


Description

Format: Audiobook

Listening Length: 8 hours and 5 minutes

Genre: Literary Fiction

Published: March 2017

SHORTLISTED FOR THE 2017 BAILEYS WOMEN’S PRIZE FOR FICTION
SHORTLISTED FOR THE 2018 WELLCOME BOOK PRIZE
LONGLISTED FOR THE 2018 INTERNATIONAL DYLAN THOMAS PRIZE
NEW YORK TIMES 100 NOTABLE BOOKS OF 2017

Yejide is hoping for a miracle, for a child. It is all her husband wants, all her mother-in-law wants, and she has tried everything – arduous pilgrimages, medical consultations, appeals to God. But when her relatives insist upon a new wife, it is too much for Yejide to bear. It will lead to jealousy, betrayal and despair.

Unravelling against the social and political turbulence of 1980s Nigeria, Stay With Me sings with the voices, colours, joys and fears of its surroundings. Ayòbámi Adébàyò weaves a devastating story of the fragility of married love, the undoing of family, the wretchedness of grief, and the all-consuming bonds of motherhood. It is a tale about our desperate attempts to save ourselves and those we love from heartbreak.

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