“Stay with me”, she said. I stayed till the end.
I wanted to stay with Ayobami Adebayo. I wanted to pick up her words and memorize them. I wanted to stay in the pages of her book and immerse myself in the depth of the story. I wanted to stay.
There are so many reasons why I loved this book:
- Style of narration
- Figures of speech
- Vivid descriptions
- Strength of the Characters
- The story
- The themes – Lust, Love, Forgiveness, Human Nature, Tradition, Politics, etc.
The author’s style of narration is in first person but what makes it even better is that the narration is in two voices; the voice of the main character, Yejide, and the voice of her husband, Akin. Ayobami Adebayo is able to achieve this by setting out their narrations in different chapters interspersed throughout the book. This gives the reader a good insight into both of the character’s deepest thoughts. The story swings from the main character to her husband’s narration in a seamless stream.
Her similes are fresh. These are some of my favorites: “she was fair, pale yellow like the inside of an unripe mango”. “if one moved close enough, that mouth oozed an unbearable stench, like stale urine.” “I was coming undone, like a hastily tied scarf coming loose, on the ground before the owner is aware of it”.
I loved her style of description. Take a look at this, “I wanted to leave them standing outside and go back upstairs to sleep. Maybe they would melt into pools of brown mud if they stayed long enough in the sun. Iya Martha’s buttocks were so big that, if melted, they would have taken up all the space on the concrete steps that led up to our doorway.”
I like the way the author gives details and then connects the dots later. For example after the main character’s husband marries a new wife, the new wife comes to visit Yejide at her salon. Yejide tells the story: “…the nails were painted hibiscus red, like the matching mugs Akin and I had used to drink coffee that morning…”.
Later in the story, Yejide tells us she bought new mugs. When her husband asks, she said she broke them. We don’t know why until the author narrates it thus: “I could see that he assumed I had simply knocked the mugs over by mistake or dropped them as I was putting them away. There was no reason for him to think that I had slammed each hibiscus-red mug against the kitchen wall as the cuckoo clock in the sitting room chimed at midnight. He could never have imagined that I had swept the broken pieces into a dustpan, put them in a small mortar and pounded them until I was sweating from every pore and wondering if I had lost my mind”.
It is this kind of narration that makes the book a page turner.
The strength of the characters – Yejide, the main character strikes me as a resilient woman; a woman who is able to remain strong through all her difficulties yet she is a flawed character just like any one of us (feeding her in-laws with beans knowing well it wasn’t freshly made just after they introduced her to her husband’s new wife is something I could have done).
Her husband is an equally strong character; his depth! The depth of his deception clearly drives the marriage into the ground. For me, the most striking thing about Akin, Yejide’s husband is his calculated deceit. Not to say anything of how he pretended to be disappointed when the doctor told him their son’s genotype and the likelihood that Yejide had cheated on him. Of course, he knew that he was the one who got his brother to sleep with his wife yet he acted like the wounded husband. Classic! Just classic! Ayobami Adebayo portrays the characters so creatively that one cannot help but be surprised at their actions and reactions (getting to know that Akin killed his second wife was mind-blowing)
The story is richly and proudly Nigerian. It gives the Nigerian that sense of “this is our own”. Ayobami Adebayo weaves the tale with an excellent craft. The story moves fluidly between different times, the present and the past. The suspense is steady and agreeable. The use of imagery is superb. The story is deep and loaded with drama. At first, I was thinking, “basic story, man marries new wife because wife can’t get pregnant? Big deal”!
But no! The big deal about this story is the layers in the story. Like cabbage, you can keep unfurling the layers and you won’t get inside fast enough. From having to contend with a new wife, the protagonist has to grapple with visits to the mountain top for prayers (breastfeeds a goat to simulate breastfeeding a baby), a pregnancy that exists only in her head yet manifests in a protruding tummy (pseudocyesis), a hostile mother-in-law, falling into the trap her impotent husband cunningly set for her (to sleep with his brother and get pregnant), battling with sick children and finally the discovery of her husband’s betrayal.
At a point I felt the drama was a tad much but it all came together nicely. The tragedy in the story is heavy. The pace of the story keeps the reader interested and invested so much so that you feel like taking Yejide by the hand and saying “please sit a while, unburden your heart and rest”.
It is a story of the deepest betrayal – the betrayal of the one you love and trust the most.
The themes visited in the story are many – we have love between Yeijde and her husband, Akin, then lust from Akin’s brother for Yejide and his struggle with himself. Yejide’s lust for something she had obviously been deprived of from her husband for years.
Politics is beautifully addressed as the story moves in between years; you see the transitions in Nigeria’s political scene.
Tradition and societal ills is another theme Ayobami addresses in her book. She reveals how easily families interfere in the affairs of a childless young couple. She tells us how desperate a woman can get to satisfy society – some validation to show that she is really not barren. The reality of mental instability that can arise from the desire to be pregnant is depicted – a condition called pseudocyesis. The scourge of Sickle Cell Disease is also sewn into the fabric of this very unpretentious book.
The inherent wickedness of man is visited in the person of Yejide’s husband who keeps his secret and makes her miserable in all her suffering. I loved the use of folklore in the book. She used two of my personal favorites; the story of Olurombi and the Iroko tree as well as the story of greedy Ijapa (the tortoise and the porridge that got him pregnant)
She also manages to talk about the period when armed robbers used to write to residents.
I couldn’t help feeling disappointed that Yejide didn’t really have a close friend or relation to be a support through her pain but I suppose that is what makes the story so moving.
The brilliance of this book is in the ability of the author to wrap all of the things she addresses into 306 pages, make the book funny in parts, very poignantly sad and yet so real.
I rate this book a well-deserved 9/10.
This is a story that will stay with you.