Sometimes when you finish a novel, you have to let it sit in your mind until you can formulate how you really feel about it. When I finished Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo I knew that I had just read an amazing book. But, I was not able to completely wrap my mind around how it had moved me. Now that it has been some time, I feel that I can say that this is one of the best debut novels I have ever read.
Set in Nigeria, this is the story of a married couple, Yejidi and Akin, who - at the start of the book - are struggling with the ability to have a baby. It is very important to Akin's family that he produce an heir in order to maintain the family line. It has been four years, and so far Yejidi has not had a child. So, Akin's family forces him to take a second wife. This breaks an agreement they had prior to getting married, and is the key to the novels discussion of trust within marriage.
Yejidi loves Akin and has no desire to end their relationship. So, with a promise to keep the second wife away she continues on with her life and her marriage. It is hard to say much more about the plot, because there are so many turns. And I don't want to spoil any of them, because most of them came as a shock to me. The novel intertwines the family politics and drama along with the political unrest in Nigeria during the 1980's. This is part of its brilliance. As the relationship between Yejidi and Akin changes and unfolds, the relationship of the people of Nigeria with their government is also changing.
At its center this is a novel about trust within marriage and what happens when that trust is broken. Does the deception call into question the relationship as it has been defined to that point? Can you trust any of the actions or words of that person moving forward? Does it allow you, now that your trust has been broken, to then make choices that would call into question the trust the other person has in you? All of these ideas are brilliantly tackled by Ms. Adebayo.
Ms. Adebayo also tackles the idea of a woman's role in a relationship. I would like to say that it is antiquated, but unfortunately it is not, there are cultures that really only see women as child bearers. Yejidi is a college graduate, has her own successful business, and is overall a very strong and independent woman. But that does not matter to anyone because she has not had a child. And for Yejide, because of culture norms, has allowed this to definer her. The conversation that the author has with the reader regarding this is powerful and eye opening.
By its end, both the characters and the reader have had their hearts put through the ringer. There are so many ups and downs that you don't know which way to turn. Though Yejidi does make some choices I did not always agree with, I was routing for her throughout. I wanted her to find happiness. She is such a complex woman that even at the end of the novel I don't know if I could define happiness for her, but I will never stop routing for her to find it if she hasn't already.
All of this, and I have not even mentioned that the novel is beautifully written, the characters are well drawn, and the scene is vividly painted. I truly could find little wrong with this amazing book. I truly adored all aspects. More than anything, MS. Adebayo told me a story that opened my mind, my heart and made me want to learn more about her world and the people in it. This is one heck of a book, and everyone should read it - NOW!
Book Rating : 5 Books