Today’s book review is of Stay with Me, a debut novel by Ayòbámi Adébáyò which was shortlisted for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction.
Yejide and Akin have been married since they met and fell in love at university. Though many expected Akin to take several wives, he and Yejide have always agreed: polygamy is not for them. But four years into their marriage–after consulting fertility doctors and healers, trying strange teas and unlikely cures–Yejide is still not pregnant. She assumes she still has time–until her family arrives on her doorstep with a young woman they introduce as Akin’s second wife. Furious, shocked, and livid with jealousy, Yejide knows the only way to save her marriage is to get pregnant, which, finally, she does, but at a cost far greater than she could have dared to imagine. An electrifying novel of enormous emotional power, Stay With Measks how much we can sacrifice for the sake of family. (Goodreads)
I really enjoyed this read. I found it incredibly immersive and quick to speed through. While the plot of this book seems very straightforward (a couple who cannot conceive and a man who takes a second wife) this story has so many levels, surprises, plot points that you don’t see coming and (to me) was quite twisted. It is an examination of infertility, family, grief, parenthood, polygamy, myth and folklore, betrayal, mental health and societal ideals, all of which is happening against the historical backdrop of Nigeria’s military coups and insecurity in the 80s and 90s.
I find books set in Nigeria and written by Nigerian authors to be incredibly interesting as it provides an insight into a different culture. In the UK – while polygamous marriages performed elsewhere are recognised legally- polygamous marriages are not commonplace or performed, and can be punishable as a crime of bigamy. Because of this, it is an idea that is foreign to me and which I have trouble imagining. However the description of how Yejide feels when her husband’s family encourage him to take a second wife feels incredibly real to me. She is somebody who loves her husband and who sees his second marriage as an indication of failure on her part as she has not become pregnant, as well as seeing it as a wedge in her happy and committed relationship. Jealousy and insecurity and feelings of inferiority are rife for Yejide and it caused me to feel very sympathetic towards her. The book discusses the cultural impact of infertility or the inability of a couple to conceive, how her husband’s family treat it, the assumption that it is her fault, as well as her own personal grief at her inability to conceive, which I found so interesting. For the family and for her husband, children symbolise a strong legacy for a family, and it appears to be extremely important for men to show they can produce a line of children. In addition, there are references to folklore or magic which Yejide tries to use in order to conceive. Yejide tries countless things (both medical and otherwise) in an attempt to become pregnant and I found the reliance or strong belief in things such as sacrifices and symbolic acts to be extremely interesting.
Another aspect of this book that I found extremely interesting was the narration. The majority of the book is from Yejide’s perspective, however there are also chapters dedicated to Akin’s version of events. What I find most interesting about Yejide’s narration is that she could be considered an unreliable narrator. Yejide is fairly rational person at the beginning of the book, but as events unfurl her narration becomes more and more troubled and less reliable. It was fascinating to watch her transition and to go from being regulated to becoming increasingly mentally ill and to see the comparison between her version of reality and those around her. She highlights how those around her do not understand what she is going through (I am being extremely vague as I don’t want to give anything away) but it is actually her who is experiencing a warped view of reality. I rarely question the reliability or capability of a narrator in a book I’m reading, which is why I found this book so fascinating.
I would recommend this book if you are a fan of Nigerian authors, or of books surrounding family. Or even if that isn’t your niche, I would strongly recommend you pick up this book anyway. It was a 5 star read for me, I adored it and raced through it.
I hope you guys enjoyed this review. Until next time!