Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo
Opening sentence: “I must leave this city today and come to you.”
Stay With Me is the debut novel from African author, Ayobami Adebayo and has been on my TBR radar for quite a few months. It was shortlisted for the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction this year and I’ve been meaning to read it ever since I saw Ayobami Adebayo at the Emerald Street Literary Festival, where (alongside fellow prize-nominee Naomi Alderman, author of The Power) she took part in an inspiring talk entitled: Why do we love to talk about books? (Read more about that here.)
I have to start my summary by saying this is the most emotionally powerful books I’ve read in a long time. Ayobami Adebayo has proved herself to be a stunning writer, capable of creating characters that you really care about and fully invest in.
Set in Ilesea, Nigeria, it is told from the point of view of Yejide, in both the present day and flashbacks to her life in the 1980s / 1990s. There are also chapters in her husband, Akin’s voice and this gives a nice balance to the narrative, adding depth to their relationship, as you get to see it from both sides. This is a book about relationships, but it was also, for me, an interesting glimpse into a culture very different from my own.
Yejide runs a hairdressing business and Akin is a banker, so they live a comfortable life, but their struggle to conceive a child is putting pressure on their marriage. In a culture where second, third and even fourth wives are commonplace, Yejide and her husband married for love and agreed not to partake in the polygamous marriage tradition. But, as the years move on and still their marriage remains childless, Akin’s mother has other ideas about what is needed to ensure she has a grandchild…
There were some exceptionally heartbreaking and intense scenes in this novel around Yejide and Akin’s journey to parenthood, but also moments of light comic relief that all balanced wonderfully and made it such a joy to read.
What struck me was, that although it is set in a culture very different from my own, the struggles of relationships, parenthood and managing family (and wider community) expectations are completely relatable, wherever you are living. These are elements of human nature that we all have in common and that transcend cultural boundaries – they are equally as fulfilling or devastating to everyone.
This was one of those books that took me by surprise in that I wasn’t expecting my strong reaction to it and also, once I’d finished reading, I had to give myself a few days before starting another. I needed time to say goodbye to the characters and, I suppose, emotionally divest myself from their lives. A truly great read.