Home > 2010, 21st Century, Adébáyọ̀ Ayọ̀bámi, Beach and Public Transports Books, Book Club, Nigerian Literature, Novel > Stay With Me by Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀ – the pressure of traditions on young couples

Stay With Me by Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀ – the pressure of traditions on young couples

Stay With Me by Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀ (2017) French title: Reste avec moi. Translated by Josette Chicheportiche.

Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀ is a Nigerian writer and her novel Stay With Me was our Book Club choice for May. (Yes, I’m late with writing this billet. I never seem to be able to write billets in the same order as I read books)

Yejide and Akin are still in university when they meet and fall in love. They get married quickly and are happy together. Unfortunately, four years after their wedding, Yejide isn’t pregnant yet. The young couple wouldn’t worry about it if Akin’s mother didn’t put pressure on them. As her eldest son, he must have children to keep his family’s lineage alive. Yejide sees all the specialists and medicine men she can, but to no avail. Life goes on until her mother-in-law brings to her house Akin’s second wife.

Stay With Me goes back and forth between the present (2008) and the past (the 1980s) where everything began. Yejide’s first reaction is intense jealousy towards Fumni, Akin’s second wife. She feels betrayed by her husband, by her mother-in-law. She’s against polygamy and never wanted to be an Iya, a first wife.

Yejide has lost her mother when she was little. Her father was close to her but she had to live with his other wives and their children and she never found her place in the household. She thought she had found a new family with Akin’s family and her mother-in-law’s behavior is hard to accept.

Things don’t go where you think they’re headed, with a cohabitation between the two wives and all the drama around it. I can’t tell you how the story develops without spoilers, so let’s keep it that way: it’s dark and unorthodox.

Stay With Me shows an educated young couple with a Western type of relationship who is powerless to resist the pressure put by family and tradition. Yejide owns her hairdressing salon and Akin works in a bank. They live in a rather big city. They are happy the way they are but they don’t dare to go against tradition. Fighting Akin’s mother’s wishes is rude and impossible to do.

I discovered a culture I knew nothing about. Akin’s younger brother, Dotun is married and has children but it’s not enough to appease their mother. Her first born must be a father, at any cost. There’s also strong beliefs in devils, various superstitions that weigh on people’s lives.

Stay With Me is narrated by Yejide but also by Akin, and it was interesting to see events from his side. We see the pressure put on their shoulders. Of course, when a couple doesn’t have children, the assumption is that the woman’s fertility is the cause of the absence of pregnancy. Akin’s mother can’t imagine that her son could be responsible for it.

Stay With Me also mentions politics in Nigeria in the 1980s. There was a military coup in 1985 by Ibrahim Babangida. It doesn’t impact Yejide’s and Akin’s lives more than any other Nigerian of the time. They are not involved in politics and it doesn’t interfere in their attempts to have children. I didn’t see the point of including these political events in the novel.

I thought that Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀’s book was poignant and that it is an important plea for more individual freedom in her country. We’re in 2020, the story takes place in the 1980s, I don’t know how mores have changed in almost 40 years but surely things have moved on.

I enjoyed traveling to Nigeria, reading about the food, the customs, life in Yejide’s salon and the time it takes to braid women’s hair. I liked Stay With Me well-enough but something’s missing and it prevented me from loving it. It’s still worth reading, though.

In French, Stay With Me is published by Charleston, a publisher I’d never heard of. After a bit of research, they publish romance, which might explain why I never came across them. The French translation is by Josette Chicheportiche who has just published a new translation of Gone With the Wind. It’s a chunkster, I’m not sure I’m ready to tackle such a long book. So if you’ve read it and loved it, I need some encouragements here. 😊

For the anecdote, there’s a “battle” between Gallmeister, the publisher of the new translation and Folio, who republished its old translation. If Folio’s translation of Gone With the Wind is like their translation of Breakfast at Tiffany’s or A Rage In Harlem, I’m definitely team Gallmeister and I’ll be reading Chicheportiche’s translation.

  1. June 21, 2020 at 2:30 am

    This is one I’ll look out for though I’ve read a few books now about the clash between modernity and tradition in African countries.
    But re Gone with the Wind. I’ve read it, and I’ve seen the film a couple of times. But apropos of what you just said on my blog about there being no excuse for slavery, this book will test your forbearance. It’s a wonderful sweeping romance set against the Civil War, full of exciting moments of drama, grief and loss. (I cried when I saw the film as a teenager). But, it presents the Confederate side as heroes, fighting to preserve their gracious way of life, when really what they were fighting for was an economic system based on the free labour of slaves. There is a particularly galling scene where Mammy, the household slave who tries to discipline the wayward Scarlet O’Hara is given a red petticoat by Rhett Butler and she simpers with gratitude almost flirtatiously. The book portrays her as a much-loved member of the family, but she is not, and never could be.
    There is, of course, a whole debate about the racism of this book at the moment, and whether anyone should read it. My view is that a perceptive reading of it would reveal the ways in which that racism is expressed, which would be an educative experience. OTOH, it is indeed a chunkster, and when we have limited time to read, it would probably be more educative to read something by a person of colour, as you have done here with Stay with Me, learning about a culture with which you are unfamiliar.

    Liked by 1 person

    • June 21, 2020 at 8:59 am

      About Gone with the Wind.

      I watched the film as a teenager and I remember thinking that Scarlett was a spoilt brat. This, and the size of the book, is why I never rushed to read it. I expect it to be full of racism but a means to see the way of thinking of the time.

      I recently listened to a podcast about racism in the US, slavery and the trauma of the Civil War. The historian said that we don’t see the whole picture if we think that the South was just fighting for their economic system and free labour.

      She said that only a very small part of the population in the South could afford to have slaves and that most of the white population were peasants who struggled to survive. They wouldn’t have fought tooth and nail for the wealth of others if it was the only thing at stake.
      She said that these people supported slavery mostly because they believed in the supremacy of the white “race” (I hate that word, which has no scientific foundation). To sum it up roughly, they were poor, but they were white.

      I imagine the same feeling in the French settlers in Algeria. And maybe things were the same in Australia regarding Aborigines.

      The shameful justification of the superiority of the white “race” was done to absolve governements, companies and rich people of their crime against humanity. (That’s what slavery is) But their fallacious arguments seeped through the entire population and we still live with the remnants of it. Education is the only way forward.

      Liked by 2 people

      • June 22, 2020 at 2:17 am

        That’s interesting about the peasants… I recently did a MOOC at FutureLearn which was about the Scottish clans, who were always fighting with each other and everyone else. The academics running the course talked about how the people who would correspond, I guess, to the ‘peasants’ in the South, felt a sense of loyalty to their liege, because he and his wealth provided work, accommodation and security and so (although they were often cannon fodder) they fought tooth and nail to protect their clan lands. Maybe it was something like that… indirectly tied to the economic system.


        • June 22, 2020 at 9:19 pm

          Very interesting. (I’m impressed that you have the time to attend MOOCs on top of everything else)
          I think that the difference, though is that the Southern peasants mentioned by the historian owned their bit of land. Not enough to live well, but they were independant.


          • June 23, 2020 at 1:13 am

            Ah. That does make a difference. People will fight to the bitter end for a bit of land…


            • June 23, 2020 at 9:56 pm

              That, they will.
              What she was saying reminded me of Remebering Babylon by David Malouf.


  2. June 21, 2020 at 2:18 pm

    I read this a while ago and really enjoyed it. Plus I love reading books that teach me about other cultures.


    • June 22, 2020 at 9:12 pm

      I love reading books that teach me about other cultures too. I want to read more African literature.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Vishy
    June 21, 2020 at 7:14 pm

    Beautiful review, Emma! The story looks very sad. It is a sad thing that even today in some places, tradition and the voices of parents and elders rule strong and freedom and simple logic take a backseat. I remember Nigeria going through some troubled history. I hope you decide to read Gone with the Wind. It is a wonderful epic story. I read it years back, and loved it when I read it. These days it seems to be shrouded by controversy because critics are attacking it, but I feel that that is one more reason to read it 😁


    • June 22, 2020 at 9:14 pm

      I have to confess that some passages of Stay With Me were hard to read but it’s a powerful book.

      I’m still on the fence, regarding Gone with the Wind because it’s such a long book.


      • Vishy
        June 25, 2020 at 6:11 pm

        Will look forward to hearing your thoughts, if you do decide to read Gone with the Wind, Emma. I agree with you – it is a long book and a huge time commitment.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. June 22, 2020 at 12:37 am

    I love the way Nigerians, in my limited experience, naturally include devils and so on in their every day lives. It gives the books a very non-European feel. But to go on to Gone with the Wind, which I’ve read and seen but a long time ago, a much more interesting book to read is Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman. Lots of readers say it spoils To Kill a Mockingbird, but that’s the point! And what resonates with Lisa’s comment is the Black housekeeper, Cal, in her own home, refusing to acknowledge Scout who regards her as her substitute mother.


    • June 22, 2020 at 9:17 pm

      I really enjoyed reading about Nigeria and I’m interested in discovering more of African literature in general.

      I’ll have a look at Go Set the Watchman, thanks for the recommendation. I’ve already read To Kill a Mockingbird, so there’s nothing to spoil there.


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