Must Read: Stay With Me by Ayòbámi Adébáyò
Longlisted for the Wellcome Book Prize 2018, 'Stay With Me' is the heart-breaking tale of what wanting a child can do to a person, a marriage and a family; a powerful and vivid story of what it means to love not wisely but too well.
A couple of months ago, I was sent a copy of Ayòbámi Adébáyò’s shortlisted novel, ‘Stay With Me’. Nothing could have prepared me for the emotional rollercoaster the story would take me on. It is worth mentioning that the period of time during which I was reading this book, I was relatively still ‘a new mum’ with a 8-month old baby and thus felt sensitive and connected to the story. Whilst the main character's Yejide’s story and mine are not identical, the experience of pregnancy and childbirth made me empathise and shed tears at her journey.
In addition to tears were frustrations at Yejide’s husband’s (Akin) passivity towards his family’s suffocating involvement in their relationship and pressure on his wife to birth a child. Even though the story takes place within the context a socially and politically turbulent 1980s Nigeria, my womanist-self couldn’t help but feel annoyed and sometimes angry at Akin for allowing things to just happen to Yejide. In fact, it is triggering to witness him participate in her trauma.
From the medical consultations, prayer, and pilgrimages, Yejide’s hope for a miracle child takes the couple on a journey that exposes jealousy, betrayal and despair within their marriage which is brought on by the pressure that African women sometimes face to be mothers — to have their womanhood validated through motherhood.
Stay With Me is an honestly heartbreaking story with all of the elements of tragedy that simultaneously manages to bring awareness to cultural and medical issues through devastating tales of the impact of sickle cell - a red blood cell disease that predominantly affects the African and Caribbean population. It is an emotionally conflicting and transportive story which takes you on a journey. Being a woman and relative to sickle-cell inheritors, made me emotionally vulnerable to Yejide’s painful experiences and emotions. Still, I admire Yejide’s persisting strength which leads her to choosing herself even if it hurts to do so.
Stay With Me is a story worth reading for the multi-layered rich storyline and the lessons about about self-reclamation and liberation in a turbulent situation and relationship.