I had a chance to read an electronic version of Ayobami Adebayo’s Stay with Me back when it was just a galley, making the rounds, the publisher and author trying to drum up support for a debut novel. I passed on it because there seemed to be an abundance of this type of story being released then and it just kind of got mixed in with all of them. The novel went on to be nominated for several awards, including the prestigious Women’s Prize for Fiction. The eventual success of the novel just goes to show that sometimes when a mother (in this case, an author) fights for her child (in this case, her new book), you should listen and maybe help support her.
Stay with Me or Rotimi in Yoruba, is the name that frustrated mothers give when previous children have died and they are urging this new baby to remain in the land of the living, instead of joining the siblings that died before them. If you or anyone you know has experienced miscarriage or the loss of an infant, this fictional representation of a real issue will reverberate in your mind long after you’ve read it.
The novel is told in dual perspective and dual timelines but the speakers aren’t defined so the reader is invited to get to know the voices even when they don’t identify themselves. This immediately ushers you into the recognition that this is no ordinary book. At first, the story is presented as being that of a childless Nigerian couple and their unorthodox way of dealing with their infertility – the woman seeking assistance from medicine doctors and healers, the man going a completely different route. But as the pages turn, it becomes clear that this is an expression of motherhood and its many hardships borne by many faces – a mother who dies giving birth, a mother who loses several children in infancy, a mother who has two sons at odds with each other and a mother who has several children that she doesn’t seem to care for until her bigger hopes and dreams are revealed.
Stay with Me is also about sacrifice and fear and what we give up when we refuse to stare fear in the face. It contains many references to Nigerian Yoruba culture and traditions, some of which are difficult to understand and accept but ultimately, we don’t have to accept someone’s live, just acknowledge that what they do, may be their best.
Earlier today, I was flipping through a back issue of the New Yorker Magazine and came upon this article called The Death Debate in which a teenager girl named Jahi died from complications after a routine tonsillectomy. Well, that’s the ruling that came from the medical team at the hospital said, so they removed her ventilator and turned her body over to a coroner who provided a death certificate with Cause of Death listed as Pending Investigation. Five years later, Jahi is in another state, living in an apartment with her mother who can’t file taxes to claim her as a dependent because the IRS categorizes the teen as deceased. However, multiple tests confirm Jahi’s brain activity, she responds to verbal cues and her body continues to mature and go through the biological changes of puberty. For all intents and purposes, Jahi is alive, even if the only person who believes that is her mother. Like Yejide in Stay with Me, Jahi’s mother, Nailah, also refuses to accept someone else’s terms of life and continues to fight for her daughter.
I haven’t experienced it myself but all the signs indicate that motherhood is hard and that the stories in Stay with Me are just one author’s expression of one mother’s attempts to champion for her children. In Stay With Me, Yejide begs her children to linger but the imperative could just as easily be about the impression this story will have on you.
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