Stay with Me Ayobami Adebayo (2017)
In some traditional cultures, a wife who doesn’t produce male offspring for her husband can be supplanted by an additional wife who might be more fertile. Polygamy and paternalism are accepted.
In the contemporary Nigerian novel Stay With Me, Akin and Yejide are a modern couple. Theirs is a love match, not an arranged marriage. When they meet at university in the 1980s, they discover their immediate attraction to each other as well as their compatibility—sharing, for example, a keen interest in the Nigerian and international political scene. After several years of marriage, however, they remain childless. Akin is devoted to Yejide and doesn’t want a second wife, but he’s prodded relentlessly by his family until he takes on wife #2, Funmi, and installs her in an apartment separate from the home he shares with Yejide. They can afford this apartment because Akin is a successful accountant, and Yejide is the owner of a thriving hairdressing salon. Funmi is an especially stinging insult to Yejide because her own mother died giving birth to her, leaving her to be brought up by multiple cruel stepmothers.
That’s the plot setup, which gets complicated by infidelities, deceptions, outright lies, and sickle cell disease. The narrative alternates between the 1980s and 2008 and between first-person accounts by Yejide and Akin. Another seesawing is between folk practices (some of them downright dangerous) and modern medical procedures (some of them emotionally unsettling). Traditional Nigerian tales exist side-by-side with discussion of recent Nigerian political affairs. The women in Stay with Me assert influence within the family circle, and some women, like Yejide, attend university or own businesses. Yet that pressure on wives to produce male heirs is intense. As Yejide reflects: “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.” (119)
Through context I navigated the many honorifics that Nigerians employ to express respect for their neighbors, business associates, and relatives, particularly their elders. The dialogue here is resonant and revealing of character. A few of novelist Adebayo’s plot twists are awkward, but she gives us a view into her rich culture, peopled by men and women who strive to make the best of the lot they are dealt.
I leave you with some questions: Is the title STAY with Me or Stay with ME? Is Akin asking Yejide to stick with him despite all their infertility problems? Or is Yejide asking Akin to be her exclusive marital partner? Or is it both?
Stay with Me was selected by the New York Times as one of the "100 Notable Books of 2017."