Stay With Me is the eloquent debut novel of Nigerian writer Ayobami Adebayo. In a mere 260 pages, this historical fiction must-read not only features romance, sex, and murder, but does so while tackling politics, race, and gender, resulting in a stunning portrayal of life, particularly of marriage, in post-colonial, post-Biafran Nigeria.
The novel’s protagonist, Yejide, starts off as a dictionary-definition antihero. Unapologetically, refreshingly, and rightfully angry, she captures the reader’s heart in the first few pages. But as her and her husband Akin’s inability to conceive a baby spirals into a cycle of tragedy after heartbreaking tragedy, Yejide loses herself increasingly. Her mental health wanes as her marriage weakens under the weight of the children the couple doesn’t have. Throughout the weakening that takes place over the course of the central plot, the author flashes back to the couple’s budding romance and forward to a story of hope for Yejide and Akin’s relationship. Akin, who narrates some chapters, explains: “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.” All the while, vivid characterization and the use of past tense in the first person give the story a dreamlike– or perhaps nightmarish– quality.
Adebayo’s novel is reminiscent of the work of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a prominent Nigerian novelist whose workshop Adebayo attended in Lagos at the age of 19. On her Goodreads profile, Adebayo cites Half of a Yellow Sun, Adichie’s 2006 fictional novel centering around the Biafran War, as an inspiration among twelve other books. Along with the obvious overlap in the settings of their novels, Adichie and Adebayo also have in common a powerful emotional wisdom, speaking evocatively to social issues of international importance. While fans of Adichie will most likely enjoy Stay With Me and vice-versa, Adebayo’s voice is unmistakably unique– she is one to watch.
Lauren Hakimi, from Long Island, New York, is an incoming freshman at Macaulay Honors at CUNY Hunter College, where she intends to pursue a major in English. When she’s not reading , she loves to run and drink orange juice afterwards.
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