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Stay with Me

Review

Stay with Me

One of the most exciting recent developments in publishing has been the mainstream publication of fiction by African authors, many of them young people. It can be easy for Americans to settle into a pattern of reading only American and British fiction, but these new voices from Africa can be a vivid call to readers not only to immerse themselves in a different culture but also to recognize in these narratives the universality of human experience.

One of these new voices from Africa is author Ayobami Adebayo, whose debut novel, STAY WITH ME, has been deservedly shortlisted for the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction. The book traces the misfortunes of a married couple --- Yejide and Akin --- over the course of more than 25 years, from the early 1980s until 2008.

"[E]verything is important in this slender yet powerful novel, and readers will find themselves deeply invested in the prospects for Yejide and Akin’s marriage and family."

The two meet as students at university and instantly fall in love. They vow to have a more modern marriage than their own parents’ polygamy. They are well-educated, politically engaged and ambitious --- they don’t need to fall into the traditional roles of their parents’ generation. Yejide, in particular, whose own mother died in childbirth and who was consequently raised by her dismissive stepmothers, fears what polygamy might do not only to her relationship with Akin but also to any children born into the family.

But when years pass after their marriage and Yejide is still not pregnant, the couple’s older relatives begin to exert increasing pressure on Akin to accept another wife, one who can give him a son. Yejide rails against this idea, but eventually the family wins out, and Akin marries another woman, Funmi, whom he puts up at an apartment on the other side of town.

Yejide, who owns her own hair salon, and Akin, who works as a bank manager, are solidly middle class, eager to embrace modernity and reject many of the superstitious beliefs that used to govern decisions. But Yejide, increasingly desperate to get pregnant before Funmi and consequently cement her status in the family and Akin’s bond with her, engages in a mystical rite that involves ecstatic dancing and chanting, not to mention suckling a goat.

And that’s just the beginning of the extreme steps that both Yejide and Akin take to ensure the birth of a healthy child and to attempt to maintain their bonds with one another. Things quickly go from bad to worse, and miscommunication, betrayals and misguided attempts at solutions result in repeated tragedy. Meanwhile, this domestic drama is playing out against the backdrop of a country that also seems fated to repeat the same self-destructive patterns, with repeated coups and state violence characterizing daily life.

STAY WITH ME is surprisingly fast-moving. Combined with Adebayo’s remarkably unsentimental prose and the alternating narrative viewpoints, it might be easy to miss key details if it’s read too quickly. But everything is important in this slender yet powerful novel, and readers will find themselves deeply invested in the prospects for Yejide and Akin’s marriage and family. Coming on the heels of so much heartbreak, the ending feels particularly satisfying, and readers, like Yejide herself, will come away from the book brimming over with hard-won hope.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on August 25, 2017

Stay with Me
by Ayobami Adebayo

  • Publication Date: August 22, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf
  • ISBN-10: 0451494601
  • ISBN-13: 9780451494603