MUST READ: Ayobami Adebayo’s Debut Novel ‘Stay With Me’ Confronts The Sensitive Issue Of Infertility In African Culture
Tabatha Fireman

There are myriad taboo subjects in African tradition, and chief among them is infertility.

Typically, many African communities do not openly discuss infertility. When the issue is addressed, it is only in hushed tones and even then, it’s almost always to mock or blame the woman. The women at the center of these unfortunate situations are often subjected to verbal tormenting and are even targeted with degrading songs sung about childless women. The man in this scenario is always protected, with his infertility concealed at all costs, even by his wife. 

Published by the Alfred A. Knopf publishing house, Stay with Me” is a beautiful debut novel by 29-year-old Nigerian author and skilled storyteller Ayobami Adebayo.

The intriguing read gives audiences an inside look at how other cultures address infertility. The book is narrated by a young, beautiful, intelligent, educated businesswoman named Yejide, and her husband Akin, who is a successful banker. Although it was love at first sight for Akin, who has provided Yejide with her hearts’ desires, he has yet to give her the one thing she wants the most — motherhood.

The couple marries quickly just as Yejide is completing her undergraduate studies, but find themselves — and Akin’s family — at the peak of frustration after four years of trying to conceive has proved unsuccessful. The couple visits multiple hospitals and meets with countless doctors and specialists in an attempt to pinpoint the problem, but to no avail. Much to Akin’s chagrin, his mother has even dragged Yejide to traditional healers who give her questionable teas and concoctions to drink that have also proven ineffective.

One day, out of the blue, Akin’s mother shows up at Yejide’s door with a young woman in tow. She turns out to be Akin’s new second wife. Yejide is shocked and feels betrayed. Although polygamy is part of their culture, the couple had agreed from the beginning that it would not be a part of their lives specifically.

Yejide, whose own mother died during childbirth, has no protection from her family and certainly not from her father’s four wives, who have always ostracized her. Yejide has also had to live with her father blaming her for the death of her mother.

Desperate to save her marriage and hopefully get rid of Funmi, the second wife that readers will come to dislike as much as Yejide does, Yejide treks up a mountain to visit yet another traditional “doctor” who helped one of her clients get pregnant. This time, she is not accompanied by her mother-in-law, whom she now sees as an enemy. She comes down the mountain believing with all of her heart that she is pregnant, despite several medical doctors telling her otherwise. She eventually does get pregnant, but will it keep her family intact?

Overall, it’s clear that the unexpected twists with the turn of each page have certainly helped lend to the success of this phenomenal novel. 

Set over the span of over 20 years in Nigeria, “Stay with Me” takes you from present day 2008 back through the1980s, amid the turmoil of Nigerian coup de tats and elections. The story returns back to 2008 for an unexpected conclusion that’s sure to leave readers in awe.  

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Shortlisted for the 2017 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction, Adebayo’s debut is undoubtedly one of the best reads of this year.