Yetide and her husband Akin are a middle-class couple living in Nigeria in the 1980s. He works in a bank, she runs her own hairdressing salon. They apparently have a happy marriage. But they (or more particularly, Yetide) are under great pressure from Akin’s mother because they do not have a child. They have both grown up in polygamous households and she persuades Akin to take a second wife.
Yetide is a wonderful character, alternately beautiful and strong, and isolated and bullied. Her own mother died in childbirth and she was ostracised by her husband’s other wives. By contrast, she adores Akin’s mother and this makes it harder for her to stand up to her. These experiences compound her own feelings about not being able to have a child and the lengths she is willing to go.
The narration switches between Yetide and Akin’s points of view as we see the strain their changed relationship places on them. You get a powerful sense of the conflicting pressures on them and the importance of family. I also enjoyed the details of their daily life. The minor characters are brilliantly drawn and there is warmth and humour entwined with darker moments. The increasing sense of threat from political events entwines with their personal story.
I did have some issues with the latter part of the book. First we have Yetide’s perspective on a key event, then it doubles back to give us Akin’s. This doesn’t tell you anything you couldn’t have worked out, and slows the story down just when the tension should be rising. I also struggled with the plausibility of some elements of the plot and the end was a little predictable. But despite these reservations, it was a fascinating insight into Nigerian life and the conflict between the ideal of motherhood and the reality.
I received a copy of Stay with Me from the publisher via Netgalley.
View Stay with Me on Goodreads
Enjoyed this? For a different take on polygamy in Nigeria, try The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives