I kept hearing a lot about this book Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo so much so that I just had to get the book. The book did not disappoint my expectations because it is beautifully written. It focuses on two characters, Akin and Yejide who got married and are full of love until it became difficult to have children. The story is written in first person narrative style to capture the characters thoughts and perspectives most especially intense feelings that arise between them as they face societal pressures and family pressures to have children.
Yejide is an accomplished hairstylist and Akin has a very good job but all of that seem inconsequential because there are no children in the house. Family pressure pushes Akin to marry another wife, Funmi. However, Yejide stays in the house and puts up with Funmi’s sarcastic tones and attitude. As the story progresses, Yejide gets pregnant but the bummer is the fact that the father of the child (and subsequently children) is Akin’s younger brother, Dotun. Shocking?
The twist is so good that Akin narrates that he actually asked Dotun to sleep with his wife because he could not father children. Talk about secrets! Well, I am not going to spill all there is in this book because I think you should get your copy. The book will leave you gasping and like I did, shout at some point. So much drama, intrigues and tears too. Each page you turn has something beautiful written especially as the language navigates between English and Yoruba and captures the cultures well.
Ayobami Adebayo skillfully tells the story of most African women who suffer in the hands of society because they are unable to bear children. Sadly, no one ever thinks that the man has the problem. The woman is even conditioned not to think that the man might just be the problem. Yejide runs from prayer houses to Babalawos just so she can conceive. Since Akin was the only man she ever knew intimately, she never sensed that he was impotent.
The author switches the narrative from the infertility ascribed to women to men. Yejide is a productive woman and fertile if we must add in her career as a hairstylist (she had a growing saloon business) but just a snag in one part of her life tags her as an incomplete woman. She goes through depression, pain and hurt because one area of her life didn’t work. Ayobami Adebayo tows the path of Lola Shoneyin (though in her own unique way) who writes a similar narrative in her book The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives. Shoneyin also brings this ‘infertile man’ concept in her book.
In the end, Yejide’s marriage is broken. The pressure sinks the boat of her marriage even though all her children die except one (Rotimi) because of Sickle Cell disease; the damage to their hearts seem irreparable. Even though Akin is remorseful, it would seem it is too late. Akin raises the children as though they were his but he is ‘infertile’, he is unable to biologically father a child but does a beautiful job in raising Rotimi. Maybe, just maybe… fatherhood is not only determined by one’s biological ability to produce sperm. Thank you Ayobami Adebayo for a beautiful book!