Beautiful books are often painful. They are the kind of books that reach inside of you and touch that sore spot that makes you want to weep. These aren’t the kinds of books that lay it on thick, where the plot is dramatized just to make you cry. Rather, they are honest books, in which despite all good intentions things go wrong, where people get hurt and nothing could have prevented it. They are the kinds of books that celebrate human life in all its painful glory. Stay With Me was one of those books for me and it will stay with me for a long time. Thanks to Canongate Books and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Pub. Date: 02/03/2017
Publisher: Canongate Books
'There are things even love can't do . . . If the burden is too much and stays too long, even love bends, cracks, comes close to breaking and sometimes does break. But even when it's in a thousand pieces around your feet, that doesn't mean it's no longer love . . .'
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, dances with prophets, appeals to God. But when her in-laws 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 80s Nigeria, Stay With Me sings with the voices, colours, joys and fears of its surroundings. Ayobami Adebayo 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.
It shouldn’t be hard to guess from my introduction that I loved this book. Part of why I started a book blog was in order to read more books from across the world because I fervently believe that reading a culture’s literature is one of the key ways of understanding it. There is always an initial hurdle to overcome when reading a book from outside your own culture, whether it is new and strange expressions, traditions and habits you don’t recognize, or settings and names that are foreign to you. However, these end up enriching your reading experience as the book truly allows you to settle into a different place. This was the case with Stay With Me. Adébáyò does not compromise herself for non-Nigerian readers. The book is filled with Nigerian phrases, folklore and traditions, as well as capturing the turbulent years around the military coup. Adébáyò describes her country both honestly and lovingly, and by the end of the book I was desperate to know more about Nigeria.
Parenthood, and especially, motherhood is central to Adébáyò’s Stay With Me. Ayide and Akin want children, desperately, both of their own accord as well as to meet external expectations of a large family. As grandmothers, neighbours and siblings make their wishes known, Ayide and Akin struggle for ways to cope with the pressure in their own ways. Adébáyò captures beautifully how deeply tied maternity is to femininity. To be a mother is to truly become a woman, according to many, and Ayide’s lack of children is taken as a sign of defectiveness. As she resorts to folklore for help, so Akin is pressured to find himself another wife. Without meaning to give anything away, I was very impressed with how Stay With Me showed the blame being placed on Ayide and the pressure being placed on Akin, while their own realities and truths tell them something else. In this quagmire of expectations and wishes, Ayide and Akin find themselves making choice after choice, each understandable and yet damning in its turn. Adébáyò tells their story with a gentleness that is almost painful, while never leaving anything out. By the end of the novel, the reader has been through the wringer with her characters and although they may have wished things had been different, the reader also knows why these things had to happen. Can you tell how carefully I am trying to phrase this so as not to ruin any of it for you?
Stay With Me is beautifully heartbreaking. With an honest tenderness, Adébáyò guides us through the lives of her characters and shows us how the wheel of fortune keeps on rolling. Sometimes you're on top, but before you know it you find yourself at the bottom again. Stay With Me is divided into chapters from Ayide and Akin's point of view, as well as moving back between the present and the past, in order to paint as complete a picture of their lives. By moving in time, Adébáyò is able to show us consequences before the actions, the pain before the happiness, and vice versa. It's hard to describe just how Adébáyò manages to describe her characters' emotions so honestly yet beautifully, to the point where there were moments where reading Stay With Me physically hurt. But in a good way. In the end, Stay With Me is achingly human, full of happiness, sadness, and you should definitely read it. Like now. Go.
I give this novel…
I adored Stay With Me. It wasn't until the book was over that I truly realised just how much it had truly touched me. Now, days after reading it, Stay With Me is still on my mind and I can't wait to reread it. I'd definitely recommend this to anyone interested in Literary Fiction and African Literature.