BOOK REVIEW: STAY WITH ME BY AYOBAMI ADEBAYO

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“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:

  1. Style of narration
  2. Figures of speech
  3. Vivid descriptions
  4. Strength of the Characters
  5. The story
  6. 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.

Kemibon

 

 

 

 

 

 

BOOK REVIEW-THE HIDING PLACE BY CORRIE TEN BOOM

CORRIE

You never really know the true meaning of love until someone hurts you and makes you see hatred then you can appreciate love, exude it and proclaim that you have arrived at its peak. That is my summation of Corrie Ten Boom’s account of the Holocaust. She was not a jew, she was Dutch but she opened up her heart and her home. In firm agreement with her sister Bessie and their father they became a sanctuary for the haunted, hunted and rejected ones-the jews who came to them for safety.

In The Hiding Place, Corrie tells us about this very dangerous mission she embarked on in their narrow house and I (simple reader from Nigeria) here in the 21st century wept. I couldn’t decipher the root cause of my tears for many days. It came to me one night as I reflected on the enormous risk the Ten Boom family took. It was a selfless, daunting thing to do and it takes a little more than guts to do-it takes faith.

There are so many events in The Hiding Place that made me so angry, so upset and then shocked. All these emotions I directed at  those human beings who committed atrocities because they believed that a set of people didn’t deserve to live. In the midst of all the hatred and fear that coursed through the veins of the oppressor and the land of the oppressed, this family stood out like a beacon of hope, a lighthouse, a refuge.

One significant (there were several) moment in the book was at the concentration camp when Betsie was being ridiculed by the men in charge for being too weak. Instead of being offended she was laughing and joined in making jest of herself. Betsie was simply remarkable because she walked the path of love to the end without fear.

Her perfect love drove out fear for many of the women in that camp and more profoundly for her sister Corrie. Here were two resilient women, strong and brave bringing succor where they could. While Corrie sometimes (on very rare occasions) contemplated selfishness in the face of the pain and suffering, Betsie always found love to wave in the air. She was unwavering in her expression of the greatest gift of all.

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You have to read this book for a lot of reasons, the most important being to learn how to let go – to forgive. I will refer to some very powerful statements that struck me in the account for your reading pleasure. I am certain that you will be compelled to seek the book out. It may just be what you need to find that healing within.

Here’s Corrie: “And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion—I knew that too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. ‘… Help!’ I prayed silently. ‘I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.’

“And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.

“ ‘I forgive you, brother!’ I cried. ‘With all my heart!’

I was equally struck by a comment Corrie’s father made one day when she asked a question about sex as a young girl.

“Some knowledge is too heavy for children. When you are older and stronger, you can bear it. For now you must trust me to carry it for you.”

Her wiser father was also there to help her when the man she loved broke her heart. He told her something that I have personally taken and kept as the best nugget of wisdom ever.

“Corrie,” he began instead, “do you know what hurts so very much? It’s love.

Love is the strongest force in the world, and when it is blocked that means pain.
“There are two things we can do when this happens. We can kill the love so that it stops hurting. But then of course part of us dies, too. Or, Corrie, we can ask God to open up another route for that love to travel.
“God loves Karel–even more than you do–and if you ask Him, He will give you His love for this man, a love nothing can prevent, nothing destroy.
Whenever we cannot love in the old, human way, Corrie, God can give us his perfect way.”
I did not know, as I listened to Father’s footsteps winding back down the stairs, that he had given me more than the key to this hard moment. I did not know that he had put into my hands the secret that would open far darker rooms than this–places where there was not, on a human level, anything to love at all.”

Don’t you just love the beautiful words Corrie’s father gave her at her lowest moment?

I remember this book with gratitude because it gave me clarity on a lot of issues. Have you read this book? Would you? Leave your comments below.

Love and Light

Kemibon

Have you read The Book of Ruth?

I have come to realize that taking time off something you planned to stay committed to for a long time can actually ruin your chances of ; a) ever coming back or b) ever remaining as committed if you do come back. This is my experience as I struggle through this review. You see, I am the kind of person that likes to finish things but I sometimes I get distracted (I would actually feel better if someone out there affirms they experience it too). I tend to start something with very high expectations and great vision (I have series of journals where ideas from many years ago have fallen into deep coma) and crash somewhere between “This is going great” and “this is stressful, let me take a break”.

I have decided to trudge on nonetheless so here I am with a review of Jane Hamilton’s first book “The Book of Ruth”. It will not be a long review so here we go then:

The Book of Ruth gave me no reason to think that it would have an unhappy (almost) ending. You pick up this book and as you stroll through the first page (I usually laze through the first page of a book because I get ready to either flee or dive in) you are thinking “What is Jane talking about”? The narration takes off with a character I later find to be Ruth and she tells me (it actually feels like a whisper) “I’m the only one who tells the story from beginning to end”. Of course I am curious I want to hear this story, so I dive in.

Ruth is a patient narrator she takes her time to tell me that Honey Creek is way up in the very north of Illinois and even warns that I will miss the town if I drive through listening to my favourite song on the radio or telling a story about my neighbor! How gracious of Ruth. As the story progresses Ruth reveals that her father left when she was ten, she calls him Elmer and she calls her mum, May. I soon find that May is quite a mean person and this gravely affects Ruth’s whole life. Ruth has a brother Matt who is smart and May coddles him while Ruth is called a retard and treated shabbily. Of course it is Ruth who gets to stay back in this small town while Matt’s brain takes him out of town to fame and success. Ruth tries to make friends in school but the girls take her vulnerability for granted and in exchange for friends Ruth allows them lift up her dress on the playground and pull down her underpants to look at her privates.

Imagine that?!

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Anyway, Ruth likes her aunt Sidney, she is her confidante- a safe shelter in the exchange of letters. It is from her Aunt that Ruth learns about her mother’s life before she had Ruth-the loss of her true love and her sacrifices for her family. Elmer is Ruth’s mother’s second husband ten years after the death of her first husband in a war.

As much as I would like to run through the whole book I want to rush ahead to how Ruth got married to Ruby who she met at 16. Ruby who takes her virginity clumsily in a car after asking her “do you want to see my little one-eyed snake”? Events follow quickly after that as Ruth becomes his girlfriend though she tells him she doesn’t want sex (again) until they get married. Ruth’s mother is not supportive but who knows perhaps she could see that Ruby was bad news, that he probably had hidden scars and a past that hurts too much to talk about. Ruth’s mother is a controlling, sharp tongued, hard woman.

The wedding takes place and married life begins for Ruth only that they are living with May and her toxic tongue, a mother-in-law that has absolutely no regard for Ruby because he’s lazy, dirty and living in her house. Ruby is not okay.

The reader will sense this fact from the way he silently takes in May’s goading-no one can take all that tongue lashing and not break. Jane Hamilton is not in a hurry though; she takes the story carefully, preparing the dough like a patient cook giving Ruby enough time to gather pressure, permitting May to push him closer and closer to the edge; Ruby expresses moments of suppressed anger finally erupting as the book hurtles to an unpredictable end one Sunday when everything comes to a head. Ruth tells me “I swear when I looked into Ruby’s eyes they were the yellow of a sky right before a fierce summer storm”. When the events finally unravel there is a dead body, a lot of blood, and a thoroughly traumatized child.

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I like this book for a lot of reasons: the style of narration was perfect for the kind of tale being told, the characters were interesting, each had something unique about them but the one reason for the “unputdownable” nature of The Book of Ruth is the character of Ruth herself, resilient Ruth, Ruth with big dreams of a happily ever after, Ruth who doesn’t really seem to realize how much damage her mother caused until the tragic end. Ruth- who has gumption in her heart to face life again after the most traumatic Sunday of her life.

This book scores a 9 on a scale of 10 and there you have it.

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Kemibon