“Stay With Me” by Ayobami Adebayo: A Powerful Debut on Barrenness, Betrayal and the Possibilities within Marriage

Stay With Me (2017, Canongate Books)

The last time I mentioned Nigeria was in my post on the book Olive Witch by Nigeria-born Bangladeshi-American writer Abeer Hoque. I got a chance to learn more about the west African country through the novel Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo (@ayobamiadebayo@AyobamiAdebayoAuthor).

Born in 1988 in Lagos, Adebayo obtained her BA and MA degrees in Literature from Obafemi Awolowo University in Ile-Ife. She then received another MA, in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia. Her mentors include Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Margaret Atwood. The writer has received fellowships and residencies from Ledig House, Sinthian Cultural Centre, Hedgebrook, Ox-bow School of Arts, Ebedi Hills and Siena Art Institute.

Stay With Me (which was shortlisted for the 2017 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction in the UK) is an exceptional, very powerful debut that deals with a number of themes—barrenness, betrayal, the meanings of masculinity and femininity, societal pressure, and the limits and possibilities of marital love. The prose is emotionally charged, honest and generous, yet gracefully restrained from start to finish.

The story revolves around a couple—Yejide and Akin, who get married after falling in love with each other at university. Although they are situated within a polygamous society, they remain fully committed to each other and decide that they will not entertain a third party. Years pass and they have no children. They consult doctors and healers, try all manner of remedies. When everything fails, their families bring home another wife for Akin (Funmi), saying that perhaps Yejide’s womb will open up later, once there is already a child in the home.

What follows is a tough period of jealousy and exhaustion. Yejide manages to get pregnant, but not in a way the reader could have anticipated. Anger and confusion persist. Tragedy strikes. In the middle of it all, I found the writer asking – How should we assess a marriage? What is the true worth of a woman and a man? What do commitment and fruitfulness mean? The book was something of an admonition and a warning to those who too quickly reduce a human being to the functionality or dysfunctionality of their reproductive organs. Although Stay With Me ends with a hopeful vision of a family, it leaves us with this important message: children are valuable and beautiful, they make our life richer, but our desire for them must not be so unchecked that it ends up frustrating our freedoms, eroding our sense of worth and damaging our existing relationships.

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Excerpts:

A Thousand Pieces Around Your Feet –

I loved Yejide from the very first moment. No doubt about that. But there are things even love can’t do. 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. But even when it’s in a thousand pieces around your feet, that doesn’t mean it’s no longer love.

Why We Have Children –

The reason why we do the things we do will not always be the ones that others will remember. Sometimes I think we have children because we want to leave behind someone who can explain who we were to the world when we are gone.

 

“Sometimes I think we have children because we want to leave behind someone who can explain who we were to the world when we are gone.” (Photo: Pixabay)

 

What do we Know about Ourselves? –

But what do we know about ourselves? Do we ever really know what we will do in any situation until the situation presents itself? Since the day she was born, I had been getting myself ready for the worst but a lifetime was not enough to prepare me for the dizziness that hit me.

Every New Level of Indignity –

I had no father, no mother, and no sibling. Akin was the only person in the world who would really notice if I went missing.

 

These days I tell myself that is why I stretched to accommodate every new level of indignity, so that I could have someone who would look for me if I went missing.

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