Staying on my Nigerian women and nonbinary writer kick, the next book I read was Stay With Me by Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀. This was the first book I read that actually looked at polygamy in Nigeria, especially as a practice between tradition and a more “modern/western” world. Being polyamorous myself, I was excited to read a book about multiple partners even if it is in a system of power I don’t necessarily agree with.
The book begins with an idealistic young couple who have no interest in polygamy. The girl, Yejide, agrees to marry Akin on the condition that he will not take another bride. This sets up the whole book, as it immediately shows the power dynamics in Nigeria. Mainly, that the current wife does not have to agree to her husband taking more wives. It also shows the power dynamic in Yejide and Akin’s relationship, which involves Yejide having considerable influence over Akin.
In theory, Yejide and Akin would have had a beautiful marriage and lived happily-ever-after if they could have kids. However, year after year they fail to get pregnant until the pressure from Akin’s family (and society at large) wrecks havoc on Yejide’s mental health and Akin takes a second wife. This unravels their entire relationship as layer after layer of desperation and deception is revealed.
Out of Time
I love stories that are not told in a linear fashion. This book has three main timelines: the current timeline, which involves a separated Yejide and Akin who are considering reuniting at Akin’s father’s funeral, the young married couple, which involves trying to get pregnant and having kids, and the young dating couple, which involves meeting each other, dating, and falling in love.
Transitioning between these three time periods allows Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀ to layer in secrets. So far most of the Nigerian books I’ve read have been non-linear. They play with time in a way that pulls relevant details to the front and feels very natural while also giving a generational, almost global feel to the stories. This feeling is deepened by the political backdrop of the book, passing through protests, coups, and elections.
The book flips between Yejide and Akin, and each chapter has a bit from each timeline. This allows the book to have both a very deep point of view while also having a wide, almost omniscient feel to it. It also has the classic, straight-forward Nigerian story-telling feel that I absolutely love. When things get complicated and emotional, Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀ tends to state them simply. She doesn’t obscure them behind metaphor and yet her language is fluid and poetic.
Stay With Me starts with loose strands that build a rich narrative and, as the story progresses, Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀ twists these strands tighter to create heart-wrenching revelations. About halfway through the book I was so enthralled that I couldn’t put it down. A lot of the shocking revelations were dramatic — I was reminded of reading Valley of the Dolls or even watching a soap opera. Several times I gasped OUT LOUD with a “no way.”
The thing is all of these twists and turns were perfectly paced and planned out. The seeds were planted from the beginning and nothing was too farfetched to believe.
The Gut Punch
In Summation, Go Read It
Basically, this book does everything I’ve been loving about Nigerian women writers and does it well. It takes a relatable, intimate plot and gives it layers of meaning while staying simple and accessible.