What do I not love about this novel, from the title, to the author’s name to the Yoruba translation of the title to the book cover to the bittersweet plot, the mesmerizing change in locale? Everything in this novel is sure to unnerve the reader.
Its compelling and punchy emotions take us through the high plane of desire, to the mountain of hope, the abyss of fear, valley of betrayal, zone of love and anger, isle of pain, cauldron of silence and every emotion akin to man.
Even as I write, I still feel the pains of Yejide, the struggle of Akin – sobs and little Rotimi or Timi as she chooses to be called. Dotun on one hand gets me pained, marveled and humbled. Moomi, eku oro omo, weldon on the travails of motherhood – the tireless tiger of the novel. We wish all mother-in-law equaled her attitude. She is though not flawless.
Ayobami, you have succeeded in taking a common story of childlessness and hopelessness to an exalted state of artistry and given us a heartache – something to ruminate for a long time. The only novel I have read that held similar pain in me was Buchi Emecheta’s The Joys of Motherhood. We still live with Yejide and Akin after we are long parted from their story. Lord, you have raised us to the heaven and left us hanging. I just want to end the story myself with a happily ever after, yes. In this happily ever after, Yejide stayed back, Akin’s manhood can now stand, Timi won’t die, Dotun will make up with Akin, Moomi will know the truth and take the shop. But I have questions, will Akin never confess? Will he take the truth to his grave? The truth about Funmi’s death!
The story has an unusual plot arrangement. When the story starts, we encounter Yejide while she is setting out to travel back to Ilesha and until the end, we will not be-in-the-know about the reasons for her travelling. To this end, I believe the effect of suspense came through, however I am also a little lost as I sail through the chapters trying to decipher where a particular setting and time fit in the narrative. The plot starts almost before the end of the narrative, goes to the beginning then to the middle and plays out like that. Readers will need be attentive to keep with the story line but once they’ve read the end, it all comes crystal clear.
Stay With Me has a bucket full of themes and practical lessons. Let’s explore some of them.
Before we come to the knowledge of other critical issues in the story-line, we have met Yejide as she laments about her plight and all the hypocrisy and sincerity, a kind of paradoxical attitude she displays to her in-laws just to give them the sense that she’s trying her best to conceive.
The theme of childlessness precede the rest of the acts, mistakes and conflicts that will unfold in the story. Yejide is childless and because her society thinks it’s not right to be childless the world cannot continue until she provides a child for her husband. She must get pregnant else Moomi is ready to pay Akin a visit every other Friday sampling different women for him to pick as a second wife, after all, na pikin dey bring pikin. Perhaps, Akin will bear children by another woman but the hand of fate will once again snatch that desire because not only is Akin a victim of Yejide’s childlessness, he is also childless himself, yes, he can’t father a child, not by Yejide, not by Funmi not by any woman; because Akin is impotent but he never tells us.
GAMES, DECEIT AND BETRAYAL
Akin gets his brother, Dotun to sleep with Yejide so he can impregnate her without exposing his secret to outsiders; a kind familiar to the society. He lies to Dotun that Yejide knows of the arrangement thereby tricking Dotun to do it against his permissive will. Yejide is oblivious of this arrangement between her husband and Dotun, so she falls to Dotun’s seduction and will from that moment desire to sleep with only one man – the one whose thing has a standing ovation. Yejide conceives and bore Olamide who dies before the chicken hashed her eggs. Akin gets Dotun to do a repeat performance of his manliness, Yejide is yet pregnant again. Sesan lives with them for some years but like one predestined to a fate, he dies too. And as he passes on, Yejide is yet with child and after Rotimi is born, Yejide and Dotun will continue in their lovemaking affair until Akin catches them. Akin feels betrayed, so does Yejide, betrayed in a game woven by her husband and brother-in-law. This will propel Yejide to despise Akin subtly and neglect her daughter, Timi till she’s almost above teen-hood. This will create the rift between Akin and Dotun, two brothers like friends until the death of their father. But who was really betrayed?
We see Death expressed in the words, the fears and hopelessness of the characters. More of this as we see in Yejide and her implied Abiku children. She lets this get to her and who would blame her when death herald her coming into the world. After losing her mother before she knew the world had stars, to the loss of her two children who should have made up for her first loss, she is devastated and right in her heart, she murders her last surviving child.
We also see death recounted in Akin’s failed manhood, his father’s death, Yejide father’s death, Funmi’s death, the girl’s body during the school riot and the scattered body from the military raids. Wherever you turn to in Stay With Me, you’re sure to see death or it’s shadows.
There’s a saying I love much, it goes: Does the walker chose the path or the path chose the walker. Even Moomi had to agree at a point that perhaps it’s Yejide’s fate not to have children. Yejide herself braces up to this thought after the death of Sesan which mitigates her not catering for Rotimi right after giving birth to her. Her attitude to Rotimi is a display of her resolved belief that she’s destined to be childless. She would not nurse her because she believes the child was dead before she lived.
From Yejide’s expenditure to the mountains of miracle to Akin’s visit to the young herbalist and Moomi’s belief that if Funmi bears a child, perhaps Yejide herself can conceive, we see superstition woven as a thread into the fabrics of the character’s mindset. Ironically, Yejide and Akin are well educated and initially will not be a part of this but when the burden of their childlessness hits them, we see them at the frontiers practicing these beliefs.
SCIENCE AND TRADITION
We have two divide, the traditionalists and the modernist. Initially, Yejide and Akin come off as educated folks who believed science could solve every problem. Moomi, Iya Bolu and the rest of the locales believe otherwise and Yejide is constantly pestered until she accepts. Discarding her pious state as an educated woman, she lowers herself to the extent of giving suckle to a goat because the prophet said the goat is her child. Interwoven, she continues to believe in anything as long as a child can come from there. Who prevails? Science or tradition?
Symbolism plays a predominate sub-textual role in this novel. What and how children are seen in Nigeria and Africa. The child is the symbol of marital accomplishment, a mirror for the world to see the parents, a torch bearer that will announce the parents to the world. It goes to reinforce that Nigerians count a woman and man as failures if their marriage can’t produce a next-of-kin. Pathetic! To what end, Akin knows better, having children doesn’t add a measure of fulfillment to anyone, we choose our happiness with or without children.
TRUST AND RESPECT
Trust is reinforced by Yejide’s blindness to her husband’s inability to do his manly duty. She is educated but somehow we see her pushed to do almost everything and we won’t excuse her because of her childlessness. When she doesn’t feel her husband thingy inside her, she concludes that probably it’s because she married as a virgin and maybe the stuff of a man is permitted to be soft. She doesn’t question the cause, she’s not adventurous to ask others too; like when that loud mouth sisi – Aunty Sadia in her shop brought something related up, she is afraid to ask questions, afraid to know the truth. She trust Akin to be whatever he says he is and if Akin says “a man’s thing doesn’t rise,” then Akin is right.
Another pointer is the relationship between Moomi and Yejide. Yejide trusts her mother-in-law to know the remedy to her childlessness that she’s ready to go to wide and breadth to find a solution if Moomi says it will work.
Before our eyes, the educated Yejide became docile, submissive and almost inert that by the end of the story, we can’t even remember she went to school. She retires to being a hairdresser before leaving for Bauchi with Iya Bolu.
Respect is Dotun’s attitude to Akin. We know Dotun is not flawless but we must give him a medal for respect and loyalty. He respects his brother till the end and has a more forgiving heart as compared to Akin who almost killed him in the aftermath of their failed scheme. We know Yoruba people are respectful of their elders, Dotun took it to a degree raised to power 200.
War plays a subtle part in Stay With Me. There are two wars happening at the same time. This reminds me of Bertolt Brecht play Mother Courage and Her Children.
The first war is the political unrest caused by the military coups of the 1970’s and 80’s up to the 90’s. We get the reports through the radio in the Akin’s home and Yejide’s old radio from her father.
Then we have the internal wars. Yejide is at war within her. The desire to leave a prodigy behind that almost destabilized her senses creates a war that would make her become delusional.
Akin wars with his mistakes, Funmi’s death, his falsehood and deceits.
Dotun will live with the scars of his betrayal and continue to seek Akin’s forgiveness.
Love always win but it’s never a smooth sail. We see the love between Akin and Yejide which though shaken by falsehood and betrayal still play out in the end.
Moomi also loves her two sons hence she singlehandedly puts them through their education.
The love Moomi has for Yejide was well expressed too. We see the pain they both suffer in order not to hurt the other. But like typical Nigerian mother, Moomi still needs someone to have grandchildren for her and if not Yejide, she would find anybody, love not withstanding.
Yejide’s love for her dead children is unequaled too. Even in death, she makes sure they are addressed by their given names – Olamide and Sesan. She keeps the little memories with her and when she will turn her back on Rotimi, we know it’s out of unbearable love than hatred. Remember that saying “If you love a bird, let it go. If it returns, it was yours for keep, and if it doesn’t, it was never yours.” That’s the prize we pay for love sometimes and other times, we turn our back so we don’t get hurt.
Set in a sociocultural, political and religious backdrop, the events in the story is set between 1985 to 2008. The story shuttles between Ilesha and Bauchi, with Jos between.
The narrative is rendered on a stream-of-consciousness technique through the First person point of view. The characters speak for themselves without the writer’s advice. However, each character mainly Yejide and Akin give personal account of their involvement in the action as the story dovetails.
Somehow for me, I felt music wasn’t put to best use in the context of the narrative. The only time music was employed happened to be at intervals when Yejide told us folklore from the past. As a story set in the Yoruba culture of the then 1980, one would expect that music should play an integral part to the narration.
Since the writer used a stream of consciousness approach, we could have the characters tell us the music that best describe their mood at certain points in the story. Music would have heightened some moods especially when Yejide is plunged into her wanton dilemma. What about the Sunday mornings when Akin doesn’t go to church? Music could be used to meet more thematic effect if appropriately applied.
However, we need give credit for the artistic use of music in the folklore narrative. It was one of the most enjoyable aspect of the narration, it took me back to my teenage years when my Yoruba friends told me the tortoise and Iyannibo story. This time I got the songs right and it has drummed in my head continously:
Babalawo mo wa bebe
This story of the tortoise and his futile effort in search of an antidote for childbearing could be likened to the story of Yedije. This metaphor was well executed.
To a great extent, character development was splendid. We have a grasp of their social, educational, political and religious orientation. Yejide, Akin and Dotun are graduates, Akin an accountant, Yejide settled into hairdressing. Their Christian life is that of a name-bearer, in the course of the narrative we see them once or twice in the church. Though Christians, Yejide and Akin do not stop patronizing local shrines and white-garment prophets. We don’t know if Dotun is a churchgoer but his remorse and forgiving spirit can count for good virtues. Moomi, Iya Bolu, Yejide’s step-mothers and the rest of the minor characters are semi or less educated. Funmi’s education background is not spelt out but we perceive that either by self-taught or formal means, she acquired some degree of education to be able to relate with Akina and Yejide – we’re not so sure too.
Language is well-developed, the writer doesn’t leave the readers in the dark about the choice and use of words. The dialectical terms used are well translated for the reader. On this, there is a smooth flow as one reads and definitely one do not need the help of a dictionary to find jargon and colloquial lingo.
In conclusion, there are new words to be discovered as you flip through the pages of the novel or as you swipe if you’re reading with an app.
My Score Sheet on Narrative Execution
The plot 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
I will give the plot a 5 star rating because it has a seamless flow and a single thread connecting every act and action in the narrative.
Also going for a 5 star, it has a rich pack of theme, a lesson after every sentence. Because of space, we may not have sufficiently covered everything in this article.
Character Development 🌟🌟🌟🌟
A 4 star from me. Like I said, I found some details missing at some point e.g Funmi’s ability to communicate with Yejide and Akin since she was recommended by Moomi. We care to know more about Funmi and I felt we treated her character too trivial.
A good 5 star for originality and concise use of words, there was no padding in the use of language.
Let me not repeat what I have said, 3 star from me and I am being nice…lol.
Up vote 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
The use of folklore was epic for me, it brought the narrative home to ijinle – home. I am an advocate for folklore and any book that incorporates this in the narrative will always have my Grammy abi it’s Oscars? Whichever, I just know that folklore used in Stay With Me was exceptionally creative. It not only creates a breakaway from the tension but it was subtly used to promote what’s peculiar to us as Nigerians and Africans. I love folklore.
Another up vote is the excellent adaptation of a common story to a multiple award-winning book. The writer could have rendered this story like every common tale of childlessness but she didn’t. The introduction of conflict both external and internal helped to develop the plot to an ecclesiastical level. I always say the way a story is told is the point that differentiates mere writers and those that blaze the path of the literary. Weldon Ayobami – Let your joy be mine too. Amen.
Down Vote 👎
The sex scenes were too cliched, I felt like I was reading one of these romance novels written by quack American writers. The use of the F word was a total off point, this is a prose and not an erotic novel, a more appropriate verb could have done the magic. Pardon my criticism but I have read too much of America and can’t keep quiet when we import some of their cliche that’s old and outdated. I find this with most romance writers in Nigeria. Create new lingo if you must have a sex scene in your book, let’s not spoil the good dish with expired maggi – Nigerian word for seasoning.
And yes, when was Rotimi born? I love her too much and want to know. Is she a big girl now? Lol, that’s me thinking out.
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