Stay With Me
by Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀
Yejide and Akin have been married since they met and fell in love at university. Though many expected Akin to take several wives, he and Yejide have always agreed: polygamy is not for them. But four years into their marriage–after consulting fertility doctors and healers, trying strange teas and unlikely cures–Yejide is still not pregnant. She assumes she still has time–until her family arrives on her doorstep with a young woman they introduce as Akin’s second wife. Furious, shocked, and livid with jealousy, Yejide knows the only way to save her marriage is to get pregnant, which, finally, she does, but at a cost far greater than she could have dared to imagine. An electrifying novel of enormous emotional power, Stay With Me asks how much we can sacrifice for the sake of family.
Yejide and Akin met at university and instantly fell for each other. When we meet them they have been married for four years and, despite family pressures and a number of medical procedures, Yejide has yet to fall pregnant. When Akin’s family encourage him to take a second wife, Yejide knows that getting pregnant has to become her priority.
“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.”
The characters here are strong and well written. All flawed and slightly unlikeable but realistic and layered. “Stay With Me” quickly establishes Yejide as someone to love. She’s strong-willed and she’s resilient. She loves her husband and the stakes are high – if she doesn’t have a baby soon, it’s only a matter of time before the second wife does, and then what? Of course Yejide isn’t perfect, but as a reader I was rooting for her to fall pregnant over new wife Funmi.
The story alternates between Yejide and Akin’s perspectives, telling the story of marriage, love and betrayal. On top of that, it’s also a heartfelt story of grief. At this time Nigeria is politically falling apart but somehow even that can’t even begin to compete with the sadness this family faces.
“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.”
At times I found myself drifting away from this story as it felt a little long with a few too many twists and turns a long the way. As the perspectives changed it sometimes took me a while to understand whose point of view I was reading which never makes for an easy read and I would have been grateful for a name titling each chapter.
Each of the four parts starts with a chapter set several years in advance, giving hints of what’s in store for this relationship. But when I finally got there, the ending surprised me and I certainly wasn’t expecting it to turn out that way. I did like it, but in a way I was disappointed and, without spoiling what happens, I would have liked to have some more time spent exploring this storyline in detail.
Overall rating: Although “Stay With Me” is full of grief and sadness, it’s beautifully written. Focused on marriage, love, family and motherhood, it explores how people need more than love to be truly happy. It wasn’t perfect for me, but still a good 4 stars.