Ayomide Adebayo’s debut novel, Stay With Me, tells the story of a couple, Yejide and Akin, who met and fell in love in the university but have remained childless after 4 years of marriage. Strongly opposed to polygamy, the couple is beset with a new set of challenges as Yejide’s in laws arrive on her doorstep with a young woman they introduce as Akin’s second wife.
The plot thickens as secrets and orchestrations Akin has kept from his wife unravel, and we see the chain of consequences this has on their marriage. It is a deeply moving story of love and betrayal, a tale where tradition and modernity meet and a great portrayal of a contemporary Nigerian marriage.
It is set in Nigeria, between the mid-1980s and 2000s, a period of political tension and military coups, a time when armed robbers wrote charming letters to neighborhoods before paying them visits.
The story is narrated from the perspective of the two main characters, Yejide and Akin. The book opens up with a narration by Yejide, as she packs for a journey, and leads us into years back when the couple’s troubles begin. She is a dynamic character who evolves as the story develops. One cannot but be shaken by her travails, that lead her to extreme lengths, like an instance when she visits a prophet on the ‘Mountain of Jaw Dropping Miracles’ who tells her she will be pregnant.
The first time we hear Akin’s narrative, he recounts falling in love with Yejide, and shows us the marriage’s troubles from his perspective. The double narrative gives the book readers insight into each character’s fears and desires.
The novel is rich with folktales, cultural proverbs and a mix of language; it does not shy away from exploring diverse subjects such as betrayal, the loss of a child, polygamy, sickle cell disease and male infertility.
I found it particularly remarkable how the writer captured the interface between the political and personal, as seen in Chapter 38, when Akin and Yejide’s child, Rotimi, gets sick and Akin finds it difficult to take her to the hospital, as there has been a coup in the country, throwing the streets into mayhem. It was a moment that portrayed how seemingly distant political issues can affect personal lives significantly. It was a statement of reality, that coups take place while people are going about their lives, having breakfast, taking care of a sick child.
I also loved how the romanticized idea of love was challenged, which is well imbued in a statement made by Akin, “Before I got married, I believed love could do anything. I learned soon enough that it couldn’t bear the weight of four years without children. If the burden is too much and stays too long, even love bends, cracks, comes close to breaking and sometimes does break”.
A friend I recommended it to said, “It felt close, like something that could happen to me or someone I know”. It’s a heartbreaking tale, with an emotional resonance that keeps the story close to your heart.
Stay With Me is a beautiful story told with honesty, a kind of sympathy, and clarity of emotion. It is sure to keep you emotionally engaged.
Thanks for reading! I am currently reading What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah, and I can’t wait to review it.
Let me know what you’re reading, and if there’s a book you would like to recommend for a review, in the comments below.