Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo
Imagine you are a wife, and you love your husband. You want to have a child but are not getting pregnant. You and your husband are tested and both of you are fine and fertile, but you are still barren. Now, add being first wife into the mix, and your husband has just taken a second wife due to his mother's insistence that he have offspring. And then add an affair. Oh, and then add sickle cell disease. And then add impotence. Uh, and sibling rivlarly. Then, you might begin to imagine the painful journey of Ayobami Adebayo's debut novel Stay With Me, which is already shortlisted for this year's Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction.
Stay With Me takes place between 1985 and present day in Ilesa, Nigeria. It immediately throws you into the desperation of a woman, Yejide, who wishes for nothing more than a child to call her own, and then amplifies that pain by adding external factors, like the pressure of another, younger wife or the love of your husband's brother. Whew, that is a lot.
And that is only the beginning, because Yejide goes on to have children, and to lose them. Stay with me sets you up for the yearning mothers' have to keep their children close, and safe, and alive. It is a story unlike any other I have read: Bold, unapologetic and mysterious. Because life and death, birth and burial, is a mysterious thing that tests love to its limits.
What was so wonderful about this story, even as it breaks your heart again and again, is that it is full of compassion, forgiveness and love. And, while it is not a perfect ending, it is an ending that leaves you satisfied with its balance between magic and realism. If only I could have stayed in its world a little longer.