Stay With Me by Ayòbámi Adébáyò

I found this book about a marriage in Nigeria fascinating and meaningful, although it wasn’t quite what I expected.

The story begins with a married couple who now live apart.  Yejide is going to see her husband after many years for his father’s funeral. Then the story takes us back to the early years of their marriage.  Yejide is devastated because she hasn’t gotten pregnant, even though the doctors can’t find anything wrong.  Her husband Akin is pressured by family to bring in a second wife, a common practice in Nigeria, although he clearly isn’t comfortable doing it and Yejide is furious.

This is a difficult book to review, although I quite enjoyed it.  The main character is not entirely likable at first – she’s jealous and obsessed with having a baby, and will do almost anything to get one, including dealing with disreputable faith healers.  I sympathized in some ways but not as much as you might expect.  She’s very upset about the second wife and feels betrayed by the husband she loves, but she also lives within a culture that’s comfortable with it.  Indeed, it seemed to be expected by all of Akin’s relatives, so it was difficult for me to understand why she was so upset (setting aside my own cultural perspective).

Adébáyò, who was born in Nigeria, is a skillful writer and draws you into the story.  As the book goes on, Yejide becomes more sympathetic.  The author explains that Yejide grew up in a family with many wives, and she’s experienced the ugliness that occurs among these wives who are competing with each other for their husband’s attention. As the book progresses, the  reader grows to understand her husband better as well, and these changes in perspective were challenging to read but critical to the story.  As Yejide and Akin face the challenges in their marriage, you see how they each views those challenges differently, and how those differences impact their relationship.  So even though this book is set in a different culture than mine, it’s essentially the story of a marriage, of a husband and wife who love each other but are in some ways strangers. Neither character is entirely wrong or right.  By the end of the book I found myself considering which spouse has hurt the other more (or at the same time, which one loves the other more).

This book was nominated for the Bailey’s Prize shortlist and is Adébáyò’s first novel.

I read this book for the Reading All Around the World challenge, the Diverse Reads challenge, and 20 Books of Summer.  I received a copy of this book from NetGalley and publisher Knopf Doubleday.

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