As they start their marriage, Yejide and Akin are aware they’ve a lot to learn, but there is one thing they are sure of: theirs will be a monogamous marriage. In late 1980s Nigeria, it is still assumed that Akin will take several wives. The pair, who met at university and have thus far weathered Nigeria’s often volatile political and social climate, have the sort of love that is strong enough to withstand any outsider’s attempts to drive them apart. But Akin and Yejide may be their own greatest threat to their marriage, a discovery that comes almost too late.
How they wound each other and try to repair their love is the subject of Ayobami Adebayo’s assured debut Stay With Me. There’s something particularly compelling in Adebayo’s writing that raises Stay With Me above the usual couple-in-trouble narrative. The root of Akin and Yejide’s woes is the absence of any children after years of marriage and desperate efforts to get pregnant—a situation that Yejide’s in-laws blame on her ostracized status within her own family. The solution, which to Yejide’s dismay Akin has apparently agreed to, is the addition of a second wife. When Funmi enters the picture, a furious Yejide knows that the only course of action is to get pregnant, by whatever means she can. And she does. The results are disastrous, but Adebayo has the ability in her writing to create a sense of grace in Yejide and Akin’s trials. Although they’re both modern minded, tradition and the remnants of the past carry as much weight in the marriage, until it looms impossibly large between them. But in Yejide’s case particularly, her past experiences also work to give her the resilience to carry on.
Although Adebayo is not yet thirty, Stay With Me feels like the work of an experienced writer. Her writing is spare but evocative, and her portrait of Yejide gets the reader deeply into her consciousness. I felt that Akin was less developed that Yejide and one never really gets a true grasp on what drives him. That quibble aside, that Stay With Me is Adebayo’s first book is remarkable, and shows she’s an author with plenty of promise.