My book club read for March was Stay With Me, the debut novel by Nigerian author Ayòbámi Adébáyò. And it is the social and political difficulties of 1980’s Nigeria that provide the backdrop for this moving family story, which was shortlisted for the 2017 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction.
The reader is introduced to Yejide, a woman who is praying for a miracle. Yejide is hoping to have a child, and her desperation to become a mother is exacerbated by the pressure she faces from those around her. This is particularly significant when it comes to her mother in law, who is keen for her son Akin to become a father – so much so that her own marital happiness is put under threat, with relatives wishing Akin to find a new wife who is capable of bearing him a child. As the months and years pass by Yejide tries everything she can to become pregnant, and along the way we learn of different traditional and cultural practices and superstitions, as her desperation increases, and her dreams of motherhood look set to slip away. The plight of Yejide and Akin is a moving one, and I really felt for these characters and the way in which they fought for their marriage in the face of external pressures. With their lack of children causing fraught relationships between themselves and their families as well as each other, we see the lengths that people may go to save themselves, and to protect those whom they love the most.
It didn’t take me long to be drawn into this story, and it was one I read in only a couple of sittings. It is told predominately from Yejide’s perspective, with some chapters narrated by Akin, as we follow this couple on their harrowing and eventful journey. I wouldn’t want to go into much into detail regarding the plot and how it develops but I can say that their situation is even more complex than first thought and as I read on I began to see the various layers to the story as it unfolds. As this novel focuses on a couple’s struggle to conceive this is a heartbreaking read and the characters go through an awful lot over the years. Along the way it explores the fragility of family relationships, and of marital life. It also deals with the powerful bonds of motherhood, and of love and grief. This is certainly an emotional read but one that is told beautifully. Adébáyò’s writing deals with some difficult issues in a sensitive way, and I found myself captivated by this story.
I really enjoyed reading Stay With Me, a wonderfully written novel which portrays a marriage in crisis, and how far people may go to save it, and to protect the ones they love from heartbreak. A powerful and moving debut.