'Stay With Me' Is A Novel Of Commitment, Culture And The Struggle To Conceive

Aug 19, 2017
Originally published on August 21, 2017 10:45 am

Ayobami Adebayo's debut novel, Stay with Me, begins in the midst of Nigeria's political turmoil in the 1980s.

"It's a period of time that I've always been interested in because I think it can help us understand Nigeria even right now," she says.

The book tells the story of Yejide and Akin, a couple who will do anything to have a child — including trying to find love with others.

"They live in a society where having children validates not just the individual but the marriage itself," Adebayo explains.

The novel has been shortlisted for the 2017 Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction.


Interview Highlights

On why she chose to set the novel in Nigeria in the 1980s

I'd always been interested in Nigeria's past. I'm still very interested in the things that happened in the '80s and the '70s because I think that they were very important years for Nigeria. In the '80s we were under a military dictatorship for quite a while and I think that the way we engage with our country as citizens was shaped in many ways by the events that took place in that time. Unfortunately they're not things that we discuss very often.

On the pressure to have children

A relationship where marriage is not even involved — maybe people dated each other and had a child together — would be seen as one that is stronger, lasts longer, is more important than a marital relationship where there's no child. So they live in that time and that world, and the family members feel that they have a right to tell them what to do, and do sometimes really terrible things to them just to make sure that they bend to their will.

On Akin's mother urging him to take a second wife

That's her own solution because she believes this is her first son and he must have children so he might as well have those children with another wife. She's not particular about his first marriage surviving as long as he has children.

On attitudes toward polygamy

It's legal. It's something people could do if they wanted, but it's not as fashionable as it once was. I think even in the '80s many of the younger people at the time were leaving polygamy behind, but I think that many things about the way the marital relationship was set up then still carry over — such that even though a man may not take a second wife, many men still feel that it is within their rights to have a mistress and a wife is supposed to be grateful that they've not taken a second wife.

On Yejide eventually being able to give birth

It comes at a cost. ... I think that when we really want something we sometimes feel as soon as I have this my life is going to be perfect, but it doesn't always turn out that way, does it? So, for her, she has this idea that that is going to be the end of all her troubles, but that itself comes at a cost.

On whether expectations have changed since the 1980s

I wish I could say that a lot has changed. I think that now she might be more willing to consider leaving the marriage much earlier — I mean, there would still be some stigma, is the truth, but it's not as taboo as it was back then. But honestly, when it comes to the kind of pressure she faces for not having a child, that hasn't changed very much, unfortunately.

Eric McDaniel and Barrie Hardymon produced and edited the audio of this interview. Beth Novey adapted it for the Web.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

When a Nigerian woman named Yejide wants to become pregnant, she breastfeeds a goat on top of the mountain of jaw dropping miracles. Ayobami Adebayo's novel "Stay With Me" begins in the political turmoil of Nigeria in the 1980s but also with a personal story of a couple who are in love and will do anything to have a child, including trying to find love with others. "Stay With Me" is Ayobami Adebayo's debut novel. It's been shortlisted for the 2017 Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction. She joins us from Nigeria by Skype. Thank you so much for being with us.

AYOBAMI ADEBAYO: Thank you so much for having me.

SIMON: What made you decide to set this story in the 1980s when, I gather, you were barely born?

ADEBAYO: I had always been interested in Nigeria's past and still very interested in things that happened in the '80s and the '70s because I think that they were important years for Nigeria. In the '80s, we were under military dictatorship for quite a while. And I think that the way we engage with our country as citizens was shaped in many ways by the events that took place in that time. Unfortunately, they are not things that we discussed very often, you know? So it's a period of time that I've always been interested in because I think that it can help us to understand Nigeria even right now.

SIMON: Yejide and Akin, her husband, love each other. But how does their difficulty in starting a family begin to come between them?

ADEBAYO: This is because they live in a society where having children validates, not just the individual, but the marriage itself such that a relationship that - where marriage is not even involved, maybe people dated each other and they had a child together, would be seen as one that is stronger, lasts longer. It's more important than marital relationship where there's no child. So they live in that time and in that world. And the family members just feel that they have the right to tell them what to do and to do sometimes really terrible things to them just to make sure that they bend to their will.

SIMON: Well Akin's mother urges them to take a second wife, right?

ADEBAYO: Yes. And that's her own solution because she believes that this is her first son and you must have children. So you might as well have those children with another wife. She's not particular about his first marriage surviving as long as he has children.

SIMON: We should underscore this was and is, as I gather, perfectly legal in most of Nigeria. But it's not something modern couples are doing, is it?

ADEBAYO: No, it's no longer fashionable as it used to be. It's not, and it's legal. It's something that people could do if they wanted. But it's not as fashionable as it once was. And I think even in the '80s, many of the younger people at that time were sort of leaving polygamy behind. But I think that many things about the way the marital relationship was setup then still carry over such that even though a man might not take a second wife, many men still feel that it's within their rights to have a mistress. And the wife is supposed to be grateful that, you know, they're not taking a second wife because they could very well do that.

SIMON: Without relating the story, which - we should say that Yejide is able to have children but that comes with its own sadness, doesn't it?

ADEBAYO: Yes. It comes at a cost. And I think that that's the story that is sold to many women. And it's not just women. I think that when we really want something, we sometimes feel that as soon as I have this, my life's going to be perfect. And - but it doesn't always turn out that way, does it? So for her, she has this idea that that is going to be the end of all our troubles. But that itself comes at a cost.

SIMON: Yeah. We won't mention what that cost is. But let's just say that it's hard for parents even to - and not just parents - to even read about. If you wanted to bring Yejide's story through to our times, what's changed in Nigeria or what hasn't?

SIMON: Well, I wish I could say that a lot has changed. I think that now, she might be more willing to consider leaving the marriage much earlier. I mean, there would still be some stigma. That's the truth. But it's not as taboo as it was back then, you know? But honestly, when it comes to the kind of pressure she faces for not having a child, that hasn't changed very much, unfortunately.

SIMON: Ayobami Adebayo, her debut novel "Stay With Me." Thank you so much for being with us.

ADEBAYO: Thank you so very much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.