I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Stay with Me by Ayobami Adebayo
Published by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group on August 22nd 2017
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary Women, Literary, Family Life
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There are things even love can’t do. Before I got married, I believed love could do anything. … 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. (Akin)
After four years of marriage, Yejide and Akin still haven’t had a child. Akin’s family pressures him to take on a second wife who can provide him with descendants. Polygamy was never part of their plan, so Yejide is livid when a second wife appears at her doorstep. She becomes desperate to get pregnant in order to protect her marriage. Stay with Me is an emotional story about the slow disintegration of a relationship and the damage that societal expectations can inflict.
It was the lie I’d believed in the beginning. Yejide would have a child and we would be happy forever. The cost didn’t matter. It didn’t matter how many rivers we had to cross. At the end of it all was this stretch of happiness that was supposed to begin only after we had children and not a minute before. (Akin)
This is such an emotional read! It made my stomach feel tied up in knots. My heart hurt so much for these characters because of the burdens they were forced to face. Part of me is so thrilled to find a talented new author to follow, but the other part of me is angry that she put her characters through so much pain! When we first meet Yejide, it’s 2008 and she’s still married to Akin. However, it seems that they’ve not communicated over the last fifteen years. She has just received an invitation to be Akin’s guest at his father’s funeral. The chapters alternate between Akin and Yejide as they reveal the story of their relationship, from love at first sight to the challenges that followed. The story of their relationship coincides with the tumultuous presidency of Ibrahim Babangida (1985-1993). Through the many twists and turns in this story, Yejide and Akin suffer a never-ending series of setbacks. Sometimes it felt like too much, but I think that feeling is intensified by the way the reveals are distributed. Each tragedy results from the one before it, but the answers aren’t revealed linearly.
The reasons 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. (Yejide)
Yejide has always been alone in the world. Her mother died during her birth and her father likes to remind her of her part in her mother’s death. Her father’s other wives ostracize her. Yejide’s mother is described as a woman without lineage, which makes them question Yejide’s humanity: “when there was no identifiable lineage for a child, that child could be descended from anything—even dogs, witches or strange tribes with bad blood.” When she falls in love with Akin, she finally has a person that is hers and an opportunity to create a family for herself. She finally matters to someone! Everything falls apart when Akin agrees to take on a second wife and she gets crowded out of her own life. Now she must have a child. It will secure her place in the marriage and give her something that is really hers: “A man can have many wives or concubines; a child can have only one mother.”
It’s the truth—stretched, but still true. Besides, what would be left of love without truth stretched beyond its limits, without those better versions of ourselves that we present as the only ones that exist? (Akin)
There’s intense love between Akin and Yejide, but they also share have a fear of being alone. There are issues in their relationship from the beginning. Akin is constantly making compromises without consulting his wife. Yejide tries her best to be a compliant wife, despite the endless amount of heartache thrown her way. The gulf between them is widened further because of societal expectations and the desperation to meet those ideals. Shame is a powerful emotion. The shame of not being “woman enough” or “man enough” can drive people to great lengths to hide their supposed deficiencies. Yejide has little support. As a woman, she must endure the community’s blame for anything that’s lacking in her marriage. She also receives indifferent reactions to her very valid emotions, which cause her lose grip on reality and retreat further within herself.
“This is a transition. A transition is a process. It is not a one-off event. There is no need for us to be cynical. There have been setbacks, but I think they are quite understandable. … It is a gradual transition, step by step, my dear. That is the only way to ensure lasting change.”
The drama occurs on both a personal and political scale. During the same time period as Yejide and Akin’s marital strife, Nigeria is undergoing major turmoil. After the 1985 coup, there’s a series of escalating conflicts where nothing really changes except a slow weakening of the country’s stability. The political battles and the characters’ reactions to the events mirror what’s going on in the marriage. Yejide describes family members knocking at her door as soldiers prepared for war because she knows they are going to inflict damage on her marriage. The introduction of the second wife occurs around the same time as Babangida’s successful coup. As Babangida assumes power, Yejide reflects that “Nigeria was still in the honeymoon phase of her relationship with Babangida, and like most new brides she wasn’t asking probing questions, yet.” The violence escalates, but no one is able to see how bad it’s gotten because they are too close to the situation. Even with deteriorating conditions, Yejide hopes that Babangida will maintain power “because the status quo was the devil we knew.” When someone questions the government’s commitment to change, Akin dismisses the idea that they would invest so many resources on something only to abandon their plans.
“She has tried hard-o, even a blind person can see how hard she has tried. But only a few people can win in a fight against their destiny. I have lived long enough to know that.”
Akin thought that as long as he and Yejide had a child they would find true happiness, no matter what had to be sacrificed to achieve that goal. But how many lies and secrets can a marriage endure? Lies pile on top of even more lies until it becomes too much for anyone to bear. Yejide marvels at how one doesn’t need to be lied to by another person in order to be deceived, because “the biggest lies are often the ones we tell ourselves.” It’s easy to blind ourselves to reality and fool ourselves into seeing what we want to see. As Yejide says, “sometimes faith is easier than doubt.” Love is complicated. Sometimes problems are too big to overcome and love just isn’t enough. Did Akin and Yejide ever have a chance at happiness or were they doomed from the beginning? Did the constant pressure to measure up to society’s ideals make honesty and open communication not seem like a valid option and prevent this couple from forging their own path? I thought this story was going to focus on the dynamics of a polygamous marriage, but it was so much more than that. Stay with Me is an amazing debut from a talented new author!