The things that matter are inside me, locked up below my breast as though in a grave, a place of permanence, my coffin-like treasure chest.
When I first began reading Stay With Me, I wasn’t captivated (at first) but had heard so much about it and wanted to give it a chance. I wasn’t disappointed, this book changed from what I thought it was going to be about, it grabbed me by the throat! There is nothing more interesting than our cultural differences and too, the commonalities that are ever present, such as love and loss, family and the truth that all of us must face difficulties. When Yejide and Akin fell deeply in love at University, they both agreed that Akin would never take another wife, as is the custom. Akin knew from the moment he saw her, that she was all he needed, no other could be enough. Yejide has strong resentment towards polygamy, which comes to light through the stories of her past and her many ‘step-mothers’. With her womb empty of child, his family will not let go of their hunger for their eldest to produce grandchildren, harassing Yejide until Akin has no choice but to take a second wife. A child is how we live on, how dare she deny their beloved son his future! For me, quite a bit of hilarity ensues with the ‘jealousy’, there is no way Yejide will welcome this ‘sister’ with open arms. The things women the whole world over are forced to tolerate is shocking. I know American women will smirk, imagine in Yejide shoes they’d like to strangle Akin and his family- but we have different expectations. The old traditions get downright disturbing, I went from laughter to gut wrenching pain as I read further along, from watching Yejide wish a baby into existence to all the wretched tragedy that befalls each of her blessings. The glimpses into her own cold upbringing as a sort ‘orphan, outcast’ within a large Nigerian polygamous family ripped me to the core, human cruelty can be quiet, it doesn’t have to be physical. What is more painful than a child outside closed doors as life is bursting behind them, hungering for connection, spying stories from the outside? How can I help but think tradition isn’t always something to be preserved?
Akin’s mother, do you despise or pity her? This is how superstitions and ‘tradition’ poison the mind, detaching you from children as if when fate picks them off one by one you just ‘erase them’. There are politics within, but for me- this story is so incredibly rich about womanhood and motherhood. There is despair in searching for cures, be it foul herbs, rocking a goat as much as in hiding your shame and abusing someone’s naivety. This novel has so much betrayal, darkness, and lies but all for love, love is always at the core. Fear is the biggest character and fate is the mean god. Men don’t have it easy here either, what a mess everyone makes.
I want to write more about the climax, but it would ruin all the secrets- darn it! Why is everyone forced to betray each other and themselves? Why is a woman nothing without a child, why is she the one to blame? The writing is beautiful. “See, we are not asking you to stand up from your place in his life, we are just saying you should shift so that someone else can sit down.” Can you imagine, reader? Would you see red? Oh the dangerous intentions of family, the very unraveling of Yejide is laid at their feet. Yejide is broken on the rocks of destiny again and again.
This story is not focused as much on the ‘second wife’ as you think, she has her time but this book is about motherhood more than anything else, and love- love as salvation and destruction. This is a fantastic debut novel by Nigerian born Ayobami Adebayo, I certainly want to add her short story collection Spent Lives to my reading pile. This is not just beautifully written, but with keen intelligence. Yes, read it!
Publication Date: August 22, 2017
Knopf Doubleday Publishing