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"A stunning debut novel." —Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
This celebrated, unforgettable first novel (“A bright, big-hearted demonstration of female spirit.” –The Guardian), shortlisted for the prestigious Women's Prize for Fiction and set in Nigeria, gives voice to both husband and wife as they tell the story of their marriage--and the forces that threaten to tear it apart.
Yejide and Akin have been married since they met and fell in love at university. Though many expected Akin to take several wives, he and Yejide have always agreed: polygamy is not for them. But four years into their marriage--after consulting fertility doctors and healers, trying strange teas and unlikely cures--Yejide is still not pregnant. She assumes she still has time--until her family arrives on her doorstep with a young woman they introduce as Akin's second wife. Furious, shocked, and livid with jealousy, Yejide knows the only way to save her marriage is to get pregnant. Which, finally, she does--but at a cost far greater than she could have dared to imagine. An electrifying novel of enormous emotional power, Stay With Me asks how much we can sacrifice for the sake of family.
|Publisher:||Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group|
|Sold by:||Random House|
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
JOS, DECEMBER 2008
I must leave this city today and come to you. My bags are packed and the empty rooms remind me that I should have left a week ago. Musa, my driver, has slept at the security guard’s post every night since last Friday, waiting for me to wake him up at dawn so we can set out on time. But my bags still sit in the living room, gathering dust.
I have given most of what I acquired here—furniture, electronic devices, even house fittings—to the stylists who worked in my salon. So, every night for a week now, I’ve tossed about on this bed without a television to shorten my insomniac hours.
There’s a house waiting for me in Ife, right outside the university where you and I first met. I imagine it now, a house not unlike this one, its many rooms designed to nurture a big family: man, wife and many children. I was supposed to leave a day after my hair dryers were taken down. The plan was to spend a week setting up my new salon and furnishing the house. I wanted my new life in place before seeing you again.
It’s not that I’ve become attached to this place. I will not miss the few friends I made, the people who do not know the woman I was before I came here, the men who over the years have thought they were in love with me. Once I leave, I probably won’t even remember the one who asked me to be his wife. Nobody here knows I’m still married to you. I only tell them a slice of the story: I was barren and my husband took another wife. No one has ever probed further, so I’ve never told them about my children.
I have wanted to leave since the three corpers in the National Youth Service programme were killed. I decided to shut down my salon and the jewellery shop before I even knew what I would do next, before the invitation to your father’s funeral arrived like a map to show me the way. I have memorised the three young men’s names and I know what each one studied at the university. My Olamide would have been about their age; she too would just have been leaving university about now. When I read about them, I think of her.
Akin, I often wonder if you think about her too.
Although sleep stays away, every night I shut my eyes and pieces of the life I left behind come back to me. I see the batik pillowcases in our bedroom, our neighbours and your family which, for a misguided period, I thought was also mine. I see you. Tonight I see the bedside lamp you gave me a few weeks after we got married. I could not sleep in the dark and you had nightmares if we left the fluorescent lights on. That lamp was your solution. You bought it without telling me you’d come up with a compromise, without asking me if I wanted a lamp. And as I stroked its bronze base and admired the tinted glass panels that formed its shade, you asked me what I would take out of the building if our house was burning. I didn’t think about it before saying, Our baby, even though we did not have children yet. Something, you said, not someone. But you seemed a little hurt that, when I thought it was someone, I did not consider rescuing you.
I drag myself out of bed and change out of my nightgown. I will not waste another minute. The questions you must answer, the ones I’ve choked on for over a decade, quicken my steps as I grab my handbag and go into the living room.
There are seventeen bags here, ready to be carried into my car. I stare at the bags, recalling the contents of each one. If this house was on fire, what would I take? I have to think about this because the first thing that occurs to me is nothing. I choose the overnight bag I’d planned to bring with me for the funeral and a leather pouch filled with gold jewellery. Musa can bring the rest of the bags to me another time.
This is it then—fifteen years here and, though my house is not on fire, all I’m taking is a bag of gold and a change of clothes. The things that matter are inside me, locked up below my breast as though in a grave, a place of permanence, my coffin-like treasure chest.
I step outside. The air is freezing and the black sky is turning purple in the horizon as the sun ascends. Musa is leaning against the car, cleaning his teeth with a stick. He spits into a cup as I approach and puts the chewing stick in his breast pocket. He opens the car door, we exchange greetings and I climb into the back seat.
Musa switches on the car radio and searches for stations. He settles for one that is starting the day’s broadcast with a recording of the national anthem. The security guard waves goodbye as we drive out of the compound. The road stretches before us, shrouded in a darkness transitioning into dawn as it leads me back to you.
Reading Group Guide
The questions, discussion topics, and reading list that follow are intended to enhance your reading group’s conversation about Stay with Me, Ayobami Adebayo’s poignant and electrifying debut about a couple whose marriage buckles under the weight of social pressure, and their attempts to navigate a future together despite their hardships.
1. Discuss the early stages of Yejide and Akin’s courtship, from both of their perspectives. What is Yejide’s initial reaction to Akin’s romantic propositions? Consider Yejide’s childhood and past that is revealed over the course of the novel. What does she seek in a romantic relationship? How does Akin provide security for her? How does Akin convince Yejide that he is trustworthy?
2. Consider the family unit as a social force in Stay with Me. How do the opinions of Akin’s family members influence his decisions? Describe the relationship between Akin and his parents. How does Akin both obey and defy the wishes of his family? How does Yejide navigate her role as a daughter-in-law?
3. In the beginning of Stay with Me, the reader is introduced to the central conflict of Yejide and Akin’s life: their infertility as a couple. How is Yejide and Akin’s childlessness seen as a reflection on the family unit? What is the burden of expectation placed on Yejide? How is she treated by Akin’s family as a result of her infertility? By the community? How do attitudes toward Yejide change once she is pregnant?
4. Discuss the road leading to Yejide’s first pregnancy. How do the social pressures to become a mother weigh on Yejide? Once Yejide learns that she is no longer Akin’s only wife, how does the urgency of her mission become more pronounced? Consider the barriers to her pregnancy, and what she learns about herself from the field remedies and the medical establishment. How does the psychological trauma that accompanies her journey weigh on her throughout the novel?
5. The tension between modern attitudes and traditional thought informs much of Stay with Me. How does Yejide and Akin’s early agreement of monogamy conflict with the prevailing social attitude? How does this create tension over the course of the novel? How does Yejide defy the wishes of her husband’s family? How does the eventual shift of parental responsibilities to Akin upend the expectations of motherhood and parenting?
6. Consider the identity of “mother,” and how understanding of that role shifts for Yejide over the course of the novel. How does the story of her mother’s death influence her worldview and her perspective on family? Discuss the relationship Yejide had with her father’s other wives. Which woman in her life, if any, provides her with an understanding of what a loving mother-child relationship looks like? Once she becomes a mother, how does her self-image change?
7. Describe Yejide’s relationship with Iya Bolu. How does Iya Bolu’s attitude toward Yejide shift over the years? When does Yejide seem to earn the most respect from Iya Bolu? When does she earn her sympathy?
8. Consider the political background of Stay with Me. How does the instability of the government undermine the health and happiness of Yejide and her family? How does the political upheaval reflect the emotional turmoil of Yejide and Akin?
9. The reveal of Akin’s medical condition is an important development in the plot. Given this revelation, would you consider Funmi’s death to be purposeful? How did you interpret his reaction to her accusation? How does Akin contend with threats to his masculinity throughout the novel?
10. Discuss the significance of the hair salon in Yejide’s life. How does it encourage her independence? How does it act as a place of gathering within their community?
11. Compare the bedtime story that Yejide tells her children with the tale that Akin shares with Rotimi as she grows. What do these stories reveal about the worldviews of both parents? What lessons are they sharing? How is it a cautionary tale between parent and child? How does it reflect Yejide’s own childhood experiences?
12. Discuss the process of mourning as depicted in Stay with Me. How does the community react to Yejide’s mourning for the loss of her first child versus her second? Discuss the general attitude towards Yejide’s depression from her family and those around her.
13. What is Akin’s relationship with his brother? How do they compete with each other? How do they jockey for the coveted spot of favored son throughout the novel? After their brawl, how does their relationship change? Do you think Dotun possessed real romantic feelings for Yejide?
14. Discuss Yejide’s reunion with Rotimi. Were you surprised by this reveal? How did you interpret Timi’s insistence on calling Yejide “Moomi”?
15. Stay with Me is a novel that challenges readers’ expectations with its surprising reveals, its secrets, and its deception. What plot development did you find to be most surprising? How does Adebayo play with the idea of expectation versus reality throughout the novel?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A very powerful story! Once I got into it I didn't want to put it down. Definitely recommend.
The book was very captivating and emotional. There were some parts that I did not understand, but I still enjoyed it.
Once I got into the book I did not want to put it down. The characters began to evolve and become more complex. The ones you thought that you liked, you begin to dislike. The ones you disliked, you begin to like.
Authentic and universal, beautiful language, strong characters, strong emotions. Fantastic read.
This was such a heartbreaking story in so many ways. From arranged marriages, deceit, attempting to achieve the impossible demands and always being overruled, Yejide is hoping and trying to conceive a child. A major necessity of a wife in her native Nigeria. I felt so sorry for this poor woman. First with the demands, then the arrival of a "new" wife and her in-laws were incorrigible! And the husband? I will leave interested persons to discover that feeling as I don't want to insert a spoiler here. I thoroughly enjoyed my journey with Yejide. She was a great character and she grew on me very quickly. I really liked this story a lot. Huge thanks to Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group and Net Galley for providing me with a free e-galley in exchange for an honest, unbiased review.
Yejide and Akin are happily married, and, for the most part, satisfied with their life, except for one thing. Yejide, despite trying for years, still hasn’t been able to carry a baby to term. In Ethiopia, apparently, this is considered extremely shameful, and it seems the woman is always blamed. Not only does Yejide grieve because she longs for a baby, but they are both under intense pressure from relatives to do whatever it takes to provide them with descendants. This “whatever it takes” includes Akin taking a second wife, not unusual in their culture, but a terrible blow to Yehide. She in turn makes some desperate decisions in order to conceive. What follows is a series of traumatic events that test them both. I appreciated this author’s vivid writing style, and it kept me reading avidly even though the extreme reactions of Yehide didn’t seem credible to me. I thought Akin’s reactions much more believable. I was especially dubious of Yejide’s decision near the end. Would any mother really do this based on unverified information? Of course, this could be due to cultural differences. I enjoyed gaining more insight into Ethiopian culture. This alone is a good reason to read this. I can’t say much more without spoilers, but I will look forward to reading more books by this author in the future. Note: I received an advance copy of the ebook from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
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