Words by Temi Otedola
Original Thumbnail Art by Antonia Weishaupt
The JTO Book Club is back for its March edition! If it’s your first time reading a Book Club post you can catch up here:
January 2019 Edition: Born a Crime by Trevor Noah (here)
February 2019 Edition: Homegoing by Yaa Gyaasi (here)
March 2019 Edition: Pachinko by Min Jin Lee (here)
Welcome to the April edition of the JTO Book Club! If you are new to this series, thank you for joining, the JTO Book Club is a monthly blog post on jtofashion.com where we as a community read and then analyse a chosen book that has been voted by you (the followers) via Instagram.
The JTO Book Club has so far been an amazing journey and one that I feel so privileged to be able to share with you all. I sincerely appreciate every single comment that is left on the book club posts, it’s fantastic that we have the chance to share and discuss our mutual love of literature – in saying this please do take the time to leave a comment below, relating to this book or others that you have loved and would like to recommend to the rest of us.
Judging A Book By Its Cover…
(This section documents my conjectures of the book or author prior to reading; I will also include any background information I deem beneficial for you to know before my personal analysis)
Stay With Me had been recommended by the JTO Book Club multiple times and so I mustered it to be a popularly enjoyed read. I was really excited when I saw the authors’ name, Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀, and realised this was a novel by a contemporary Nigerian female author who will have a voice and nuance of writing that I might personally relate to. Furthermore, the book’s cover was illustrated with the profile of a woman, so I was equally excited that the book’s protagonist might be a Nigerian woman. The title, Stay With Me, seemed to reveal that it would be a novel surrounding a relationship of some sort, however, the particular relationship, the setting and time frame remained a mystery.
Stay With Me…
Stay With Me follows the life and marriage of Yejide and Akin set across 1980s Nigeria. We meet Yejide and Akin as a young couple, deeply in love, equally caring, and monogamous. There’s just one thing missing, they have not been able to have a child. As usual, society points to the wife, in this case, Yejide, to be the blame. She is constantly asked, shamed and pressured by the fact she is yet to conceive a few years into her marriage. To appease his mother, Akin finally enters into a second marriage with Funmi, whose presence quickly pushes Yejide to her psychological edge. On her final tether, Yejide decides to visit a Prophet who has been said to help barren women become pregnant. Following her visit, Yejide immediately falls pregnant however; this pregnancy would never come to fruition. The real and irreversible trouble begins when Yejide sleeps with Akin’s troublesome little brother Dotun and to the surprise of us all… falls pregnant!
I saw Yejide and Dotun’s affair as a symptom of the issues surrounding her relationship with Akin, not the cause. A lack of communication, society’s upholding of hypermasculinity, and what it means to be a devoted wife, all led to dark secrets that piled so high until they unavoidably spilt into the light. We see Yejide suffer through the attested loss of two children and the tangible loss of one. By the time Yejide leaves Akin and escapes with the thought of a third part of her vanishing – we can’t blame or judge her actions, she is a woman entirely and thoroughly broken.
It’s astonishing to think that Stay With Me is Adébáyọ̀’s debut novel. Her ability to compose and curve prose is absolutely outstanding. Stay With Me was a delight to read. Adébáyọ̀ seamlessly wrote the book so that both Yejide and Akin could give first-hand accounts of events without the reader feeling the mediating effects of an author’s hand. Not only does Adébáyọ̀ hop between character perspectives she also jumps between time frames. The reader learns about Yejide and Akin’s university life, married life, and life apart in often simultaneous parts.
Adébáyọ̀ crafted beautifully imperfect characters. Stay With Me reminded me once again that we as readers do not need to sympathise or even like literary characters. Reading is supposed to transport us to different areas of mortal life and make us question what it truly means to be human, which evidentially does not always paint a pretty picture. I found myself questioning Akin in particular multiple times whilst reading. He battles between a hidden shames, a love for his wife and a rage with the decisions he has made. Yes, Akin committed some deeply horrific acts, but is that not what we as imperfect humans are capable of? Whilst he may have been capable of the evilest human act, murder, he is still a human being and so simultaneously capable of love, which leaves the reader feeling a little perplexed.
This study of the darkness and tragedy that can be experienced by seemingly ‘normal’ people made me appreciate realistic writing, not every book has to have heroic storytelling with moralising characters, sometimes we need to see society as it stands mirrored back at us.
Loss and grief at the level that Yejide experienced are impossible to recount unless you have lived it, yet Adébáyọ̀’s powerful writing allows us to feel every emotion as she felt them. Yejide’s struggle with pregnancy and motherhood is the greatest tragedy of Stay With Me. Yejide becomes a shell of her former self, pushed to insanity and desperation due to the societal pressure and her own personal longing for a child. Then when she finally falls pregnant she has to live through the greatest thing in her life being taken from her. Yes, a mother’s all-encompassing love is demonstrated in this book, but so is the overwhelming nature of motherhood, the exhaustion and defeat. After losing two children in infancy, going through naming ceremony’s, nursing them from her birth, and having them tied to her back all day, Yejide becomes afraid to love so the pain of another inevitable loss does not hit so hard. With her third child, Rotimi, Yejide is withdrawn, cold and clearly keeping an emotional distance. The fact that Rotimi is the child that fights death into infancy is even more heart-breaking in that Yejide was ready to give up, thinking that Rotimi had died.
Although Yejide and Rotimi are reunited in the final chapters of the book, I kept on thinking of the time lost, the time spent only with her father, did Rotimi even know how much Yejide had yearned for a daughter? The twists in Stay With Me are cutting. The readers see betrayal, the depths of grief, and shame, and yet the story is cuttingly believable. I had the feeling that although their lives were incredibly tragic at times, a couple like Yejide and Akin could be a family friend, a neighbour or even an acquaintance. Reminding us how complex and emotive human life can be.
Go ahead and share your thoughts, we’re all listening.
Temi’s Takeaway Quote:
“Before you call the snail a weakling, tie your house to your back and carry it around for a week”
― Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀, Stay With Me
For all JTO Book Club updates check out the designated “highlight” on my Instagram page (here).
G I V E A W A Y
Follow the below steps to win a copy of Stay With Me:
– Follow @jtofashion on Instagram (here).
– Like my latest Instagram photo.
– Comment below on this blog post stating: your thoughts on Stay With Me or what your favourite book is and why…
– Send me a DM stating that you have finished the following steps.
– I will post an Instagram Photo tagging the 3 winners so keep an eye out!
For postal reasons, the books can only be sent to addresses within the United Kingdom, Europe and the United States.