Stay with me, by Ayòbámi Adébáyò

img_81422018 is my Nigerian authors year! I now the literary scene is vibrant there and as I have ties with the country, I wanted to discover  more about its literature (both contemporary and less recent) . Stay with me was on my book wish list, and my friend Emilie was kind enough to gift it to me ❤ !

Here is the Goodreads blurb, my review follows.

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 Measks how much we can sacrifice for the sake of family.

Well, that was a hell of a book!

I am still shaken by this read. I am not even sure where to begin.
Let’s talk about the writing.  Stay with me is narrated by the two actors of this troubled couple drama, alternatively. The writing aptly conveys all their emotions, the twist and turns of their minds and lives. We really see the world through their eyes. With brief and efficient sentences, Adébáyò invites us to a travel in the dark depths of their hearts and brains. The language is quite simple, definitely contemporary, not much like the delicate, lyric language I usually enjoy.

“I could still feel the wetness on my breast and my heart thudded with desperate faith.”

But it perfectly fits the story. It is rarely languid, sometimes nervous, occasionally brutal, overall cruel. I raced through the pages, eagerly swallowing the words, even though they were razor sharp. At each stab, the romantic bubble I was living in, deflated. And ultimately,  through the words of their most intimate questionings and struggles, pierced a heart rending, true, bare poetry.

” He would never admit it, but I felt his tears that day, they plastered my dress to my belly and validated my grief.”

As I turned the pages, I unravelled layers and layers of lies and deceptions. I kept looking for the light, the redemption, but was met with unexpected twists that just prolonged the spiral of despair. There were sparkles of light in the form of funny dialogues. But I read in a kind of apnea, immersed in a tragedy that in turns teared my heart apart, angered me, disgusted me.

“I wish he had remained alone in his tortured world and said nothing. I did not want to know his secret pain or agony. I did not care and did not want to. I just wanted one thing from him.”

Interestingly, my opinion on the two protagonists sensibly evolved throughout the book : at the beginning Yejide was the definite victim to me, her husband and the whole family the abusers. But then, as things got more intricate, all the characters showed their flaws. In the end, Yejide remained the most relatable, the most “innocent” of the two to me. But as the extent of the pressure that laid on Akin’s shoulders was revealed, he became less elusive, more understandable, finally human.

“Already I was realising that all the rage had been an affectation. Something I’d reached for to use as a defence against shame. Anger is easier than shame.”

In the end, they were both guilty, guilty of letting other people’s opinion dictate their life and fate. Perhaps this social pressure just revealed the cracks that were already running on the pillars of their love. But had they chosen honesty, trust in each others, instead of pride or frenetic efforts to meet their relatives’ demands, things could have gone very differently.

“There are things even love can’t do… 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…”

Actually the book is not only about the damage peer pressure can do to true love, it also broaches the themes of infidelity, grief (as barrenness gave way to child loss), culpability, superstition and to some extent, mental health.

“But that night, because when life laughs at you, you laugh and pretend you are in on the joke, I nodded along with Dotun…”

The theme of gender roles is also present throughout the books. The patriarchal system in place is strikingly rendered. Well, as polygyny is seen as an option when the wife *seems* unable to conceive, it was quite expected I guess.  But it is even more evident in little everyday life scenes, for example when, even as their couple is going through their worst crisis and they don’t talk to each other anymore, Yejide still cooks breakfast for her husband every morning. Or maybe it is an ultimate act of love?

“Akin, who will hold your hand today if you cry silently?”

Another thing I liked about this book, is that it provides insight into Nigeria’s recent history, and the way people coped with the political instability.  My current read, Americanah, also expertly conveys the atmosphere, the mentality, the essence of the country (Adichie’s novel is interesting in many other aspects, but that is another story…).

Overall an expertly written tale of love and grief, that lingers in your mind long after turning the last page. My only regret would be that Yejide’s extreme gullibility is not always really plausible. This said, she admits herself that she chose to be blind : “He was my salvation from being alone in the world , I could not allow him to be flawed. So I bit my tongue.[…] Sometimes faith is easier than doubt.”

My rating : Very much worth reading!( I am not sure I want to rate books anymore. My grades may not really be reliable. I will just lay my thoughts there, and hope you will be patient enough to read them all 🙂 )

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