Stay with Me, the debut novel by Nigerian Ayobami Adebayo, explores a contemporary marriage in a Yoruba community stubbornly tied to tradition. Despite suspicious in-laws, scheming second wives, and secretive spouses, Yejide and Akin try to break from their obstinate middle-class neighbors’ outdated views on matrimony. Akin, an accountant and the eldest son in an influential family, initially rejects the notion of polygamy; Yejide takes pride in her successful beauty salon and her forward-thinking views on life and motherhood. Yejide’s inability to get pregnant, however, tests the couple’s values, and their future.
In her last review for the New York Times, Michiko Kakutani described Stay with Me as being “at once, a gothic parable about pride and betrayal; a thoroughly contemporary—and deeply moving—portrait of a marriage; and a novel, in the lineage of great works by Chinua Achebe and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.”
In a nearly hour-long telephone conversation from Brooklyn to Nigeria (with a three-second delay and an interviewer just discovering voice recording via cell phone), Adebayo reflected on the characters she had a difficult time getting to know and whom she subsequently couldn’t let go.
Yejide will join a pantheon of unforgettable literary heroines. How did you find her?
I got to know her over five to seven years. I started thinking about the book two years before writing it. What was peculiar about her—and even her husband—was they felt very real. I created them, but I felt like there were things I discovered that, throughout the process, felt very real. When I didn’t understand what was going on or I didn’t know what would happen next, I felt that I needed to just wait and listen to Yejide and understand things about her. One of the ways I got to know her better and to start writing her was that sometimes I would sit down in my room and have all these conversations, which is weird now that I think about it. I basically talked to myself and talked to this person and asked her about things. A lot of it didn’t make it into the book, but … it’s bizarre, but she felt fully formed. Read More