Review: Stay with Me by Ayobami Adebayo

quote and cover of stay with me by ayobami adebayo

‘Stay with Me’ is the only debut novel shortlisted for the 2017 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction and that is the reason why I picked it up. It is a book a thoroughly enjoyed and if you are interested in stories about love, marriage, family and relationships this will definitely will be up your alley. Ayobami Adebayo is from Lagos, Nigeria. She bases the story of ‘Stay with Me’ on her own culture so this is a great book to read to get an insight into Nigerian culture and its people.

Yedije and Akin fell in love and got married and as any couple, are looking forward to have children. But what happens when Yedijeis not getting pregnant? Having children and especially baby boys is important in Nigerian culture and the lack of them is seen as a sign of the wife’s failure. Something must be wrong with Yedije, and the family, especially the mother in law can’t wait any more and arranges for Akin to take a second wife. Yedije’s sense of control over her own life and marriage vanishes when she is presented with her husband’s second wife. From that point on nothing unfolds the way you think and at certain points of the story I was shocked by the turn of events. Simply put, how far would you be willing to go to make happy the person you love?

At certain points I felt that what happened bordered on surrealism. It was too much for my brain to take in and I have seen a fair share of South America soap operas, where impossible things happened and family drama took unbelievable proportions. I felt, not much in terms of family drama plot lines could shock me. Well, I was so wrong! The shocks these book gave me just kept on coming and intensifying. And the only reason this book is not a five star read is because I felt that at times it was just too much.

I understand that this is a work of fiction but I cannot stop thinking that the author was inspired by her own culture and people, so some of the things in here might have actually happened. Don’t know! I kept thinking, OMG, this is not happening!

There are certain aspects of this book that stood out to me.

  1. The extended family and their role in a couple’s life. The level of family interference into this couple’s life is simply astonishing. I could not imagine to life with that level of meddling into my own life and to think that this is normal in certain parts of the world seems crazy to me. I see it as meddling but ultimately this seemed like the way things were, something you needed to accept with a forced smile on your face. Saying no is out of the question it seemed and even if you said no, would it do any good? Would it matter? Mothers and mother in laws do not shy away from manipulations of the worst kind. I saw very little of positive interference (interference guided by love and concern), if any.
  2. The role of women in society. This book is basically Yedije’s struggle as a daughter, a woman, a wife and a mother. Her story is heartbreaking. We get a good understanding of how women are seen in Nigeria, what is expected of them, and the pressure they feel when they don’t meet the expectations of society and family. The writing is so well executed that Yedije’s emotions were my own and it will be a long time before I forget her story.
  3. The plot line. The book is under 300 pages long and for such a short one, it is packed with a series of twists and turns which surprised me continuously. I have read many 500+ page books lately and I forgot that truly great works of art don’t need so many words in order to convey emotions and to weave intricate plot lines.
  4. Superstition in Nigeria. The book is set in the 80s, at times it felt like it was written centuries ago. It made me think if my own culture and my beliefs. Just to give an example, bad luck is a black cat crossing the street in front of you. These superstitions might occur in our lives and are such integral part of how we grew up, that even though we don’t believe in them, they still pop up in our heads every once in a while. It’s not something we can just shake off.

So overall a four star read, and a very well written debut novel with captivating characters, intricate story-line and beautiful portrayal of Nigerian culture and relationships.

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