Bestselling debut novel, Stay With Me, by Ayòbámi Adébáyò has been a hit with critics. It tells the beautiful yet sad tale, of a married couple and their downfall against the backdrop of a politically turbulent Nigeria. The novel addresses the subjects of love, parenthood, loss, motherhood and being a woman in the patriarchal and political climate.
Speaking to the Guardian, Adébáyò describes what it means to be a young woman in her home country. “I think there is a dissonance between how much is expected of you as a young person, whether you are a man or a woman: you are supposed to go to university, you get a master’s degree, maybe two, particularly if you come from the middle class.
“And somehow, when it gets to a certain point, there’s a separation in how far you can go because a woman is to subsume all of her ambition to – some would say – the ultimate goal of marriage. To be fair, men are also pressured into getting married. But I don’t think men are expected to make the sacrifices that are routinely expected of a woman.”
When the protagonist, Yejide, finally has a baby, she unfortunately discovers that she has passed on the sickle cell disease. When Adébáyò was at university, she found out that she was a carrier of the sickle cell gene. In Nigeria, one in four people are healthy carriers of the gene meaning it is one of the most affected country’s in the world.
Awareness of the devastating effect that sickle cell disease can have on families is raised in Adébáyò’s novel which is why it is up for a Wellcome list prize (for literature that addresses medical issues.) Adébáyò expresses how being a carrier affects her life.
“It makes for awkward conversations. But it’s better to know as early as possible. Because if you become emotionally involved with somebody it’s more difficult to say to yourself: ‘I’m going to walk away from this because I don’t want to make a decision that could have an impact on somebody who’s not here.”
The idea that it’s possible to have a child without the disease is tormenting for carriers wishing to have children – living with the illness is too unbearable, so much so that Adébáyò says all those she knows that are living with the disease “wish their parents never married.”
Witnessing two of her close friends dying in their teens from the disease and seeing the devastating effects on their families, inspired her to write the novel. Every circumstance is tragic and she says she “just couldn’t stop thinking about what it meant for the mother…Not just to experience that kind of loss, but to somehow get up the next day.”
The novel is an excellent depiction and opening dialogue for a medical condition that needs to be spoken about. Not only does she address the tragedy of the disease and the harrowing story of being a mother and experiencing all kinds of loss, the story ends with a glimmer of uplifting optimism.
Stay With Me is available to purchase on Amazon