Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo #BaileysPrize

Stay With Me is the meaning of the Yoruba, Nigerian first name Rotimi, which in itself is the short version of Oluwarotimi.

“Still they named her Rotimi, a name that implied she was an Abiku child who had come into the world intending to die as soon as she could. Rotimi – stay with me.”

I’m guessing that Ayobami Adebayo uses it as the title to her novel, because it relates to the twin desires of the main characters in the book, Yejide in her yearning to become pregnant and to keep a child, to be the mother she was denied, having been raised by less than kind stepmothers after her mother died in childbirth; and her husband Akin, in his desire to try to keep his wife happy and with him, despite succumbing to the pressures of the stepmothers and his own family, he being the first-born son of the first wife, to produce a son and heir.

“Before I got married I believed love could do anything. I learned soon enough 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.”

Torn between the love of his wife and meeting the expectations of his family, for two years he would resist their suggestions, until the day they came knocking at his door, to inform Yejide that matters had been taken into their hands, that there was nothing she could do but accept it, suggesting it may even help.

“For a while, I did not accept the fact that I had become a first wife, an iyale. Iya Martha was my father’s first wife. When I was a child, I believed she was the unhappiest wife in the family. My opinion did not change as I grew older. At my father’s funeral, she stood beside the freshly dug grave with her narrow eyes narrowed even further and showered curses on every woman my father had made his wife after he had married her. She had begun as always with my long-dead mother, since she was the second woman he had married, the one who had made Iya Martha a first among not-so-equals.”

The narrative is split into five parts and moves between a present in 2008 when Yejide is returning to her husbands hometown for the funeral of his father, and the past which traverses the various stages of their marriage and their attempts to create a family and the effect of the secrets, lies, interferences and silences on their relationship.

The narrative voice moves from first person accounts of both Yejide and Akin, ensuring the reader gains twin perspectives on what is happening (and making us a little unsure of reality) and the more intimate second person narrative in the present day, as each character addresses the other with that more personal “you” voice, they are not in each other’s presence, but they carry on a conversation in their minds, addressing each other, asking questions that will not be answered, wondering what the coming together after all these years will reveal.

The portrayal of the pressures on this couple to meet expectations and the effect of the past on the present are brilliantly conveyed in this engaging novel, which provides a rare insight into a culture and people who live simultaneously in a modern world that hasn’t yet let go of its patriarchal traditions. Denial plays a lead part and when the knowledge it suppresses is at risk of being exposed, violence erupts.

Simultaneously the country is in the midst of a military coup, which also threatens to destabilise the country and puts its citizens in fear for their lives.

The novel also addresses the significant presence of the sickle-cell gene on people’s lives, something that is perhaps little known in the West, but in Nigeria with a population of 112 million people, 25% of adults have or carry the sickle-cell trait, which can cause high infant mortality and problems in later life. It is a genetic blood disorder that affects the haemoglobin within the red blood cells and the recurring pain and complications caused by the disease (for which there is no cure) can interfere with many aspects of a person’s life.

Stay With Me has been longlisted for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction 2017, a worthy contender in my opinion and a unique social perspective on issues that are both universal to us all illustrating how in particular they impact the Nigerian culture.

Buy A Copy of Stay With Me via Book Depository


22 thoughts on “Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo #BaileysPrize

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  2. I always want to read for the Baileys Woman’s Prize and yet I’m consumed with the Man Booker International Prize which seems to run at the same time. Or closely enough that I can’t manage to do both. But, thanks for highlighting them for me (us).

    Liked by 1 person

    • I understand what you mean, I’m happy to cherry pick from both lists and look forward to your reviews, which will definitely be helping me decide which books from the Man Booker International long list to read.


    • They are emotions particular to their challenging circumstance, something likely to be quite outside the norm for many readers, but perhaps allows us to be more understanding of what those pressures must be like as they do continue to be the reality for men and women in many cultures today.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for a great review! I listened to Ayobami Adebayo talk about her novel on the radio (I think it was the book programme on Radio4 ) not long ago. I had made a mental note to put this book on my reading list and now having read your review I certainly will read it as soon as I can. This year I am determined to read books that would give me some insight into the lives lived in other cultures.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I listened to a podcast recently too, I think it was the FT, I loved listening to her speak and hearing about her opportunity to do a creative writing workshop in Nigeria with Chimamanda Ngozi, which must have been so inspirational for her. Well, she’ll be celebrating now, having just made the shortlist of six novels for the Baileys Women’s Prize. I do hope you get to read it and enjoy it and I love that you’re interested as well in novels that provide insights into the lives of other cultures, that’s one of my favourite genres so to speak!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I read Half of a Yellow Sun last year which chronicles the Biafran War and won the Baileys Women’s Fiction Prize some ten years ago now. Stay With Me might be the ideal book to follow it. Great review, Claire, thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think it would be indeed Sandra, I’ve read all Chimamanda’s novels and they’re great, this one is special because it focuses on family expectations and pressures on a marriage in a culture that diverges from our own, and also provides something of a slice of daily life of the self employed woman. It’s entertaining, thought provoking and well written and now it’s made the shortlist of the Baileys Prize.

      Liked by 1 person

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