Ayobami Adebayo’s Stay With Me tells the story of a young couple who are very much in love, Akin and Yegide. Unfortunately, after four years of marriage, she is still not pregnant and the family has pushed Akin into take a second wife. Yegide, growing up without her mother and terrorized by her four stepmothers had insisted before they married that Akin promise he would not take additional wives, but he betrayed her under family pressure.
Yegide is desperate for a child, not only does she need to conceive before the second wife, she needs a child to feel fulfilled as a woman. Motherhood is everything in her culture. Although they are Anglicans, Yegide tries folks remedies and magic and even experiences pseudocyesis, a phantom pregnancy. This drives her husband to a desperate act that brings them joy, sorrow, and destruction.
This is a couple with secrets, deep secrets they really needed to share with each other. Because they don’t, they suffer far more than they would otherwise. They never can seem to learn to talk to each other. They suffer so much sorrow because of this. I cried more than once, sad and frustrated by their failure to comfort each other and be honest despite their deep love.
Stay With Me is a deeply affecting book. The biological imperative to reproduce is universal. Every culture sees its future and its worth in its children. That this can be pathologized is also true across the world. For Yegibe, the in-law pressure, the social pressure causes her to suffer a phantom pregnancy. For Akin, the demands of masculinity prevent him from being honest with the person he loves most in the world and to set in motion a series of betrayals that will break your heart.
I have to say, Akin’s ultimate secret was not what I expected. I assumed something else and was shocked in the end, wondering at Yegibe’s own capacity for self-deception, as though she must have known, on one level, but just refused to countenance it. In the background, the national politics of Nigeria are playing out, the uncertainty and violence of coups and attempted coups in the background, sometimes affecting them even more directly.
I liked the story. I liked Yegibe and Akin. The story was well structured, going back and forth in time and narrative voice, carefully revealing bit by bit, drawing us deep into their lives, their love, their hope and their tragedy and their redemption, or maybe half-redemption. I am hopeful they will finally wise up, but we don’t know for sure which is as it should be.
Stay With Me will be published August 22nd. I received an e-galley from the publisher through NetGalley.