Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo #BaileysPrize

Stay With Me is the meaning of the Yoruba, Nigerian first name Rotimi, which in itself is the short version of Oluwarotimi.

“Still they named her Rotimi, a name that implied she was an Abiku child who had come into the world intending to die as soon as she could. Rotimi – stay with me.”

I’m guessing that Ayobami Adebayo uses it as the title to her novel, because it relates to the twin desires of the main characters in the book, Yejide in her yearning to become pregnant and to keep a child, to be the mother she was denied, having been raised by less than kind stepmothers after her mother died in childbirth; and her husband Akin, in his desire to try to keep his wife happy and with him, despite succumbing to the pressures of the stepmothers and his own family, he being the first-born son of the first wife, to produce a son and heir.

“Before I got married I believed love could do anything. I learned soon enough it couldn’t bear the weight of four years without children. If the burden is too much and stays too long, even love bends, cracks, comes close to breaking and sometimes does break. But even when it’s in a thousand pieces around your feet, that doesn’t mean it’s no longer love.”

Torn between the love of his wife and meeting the expectations of his family, for two years he would resist their suggestions, until the day they came knocking at his door, to inform Yejide that matters had been taken into their hands, that there was nothing she could do but accept it, suggesting it may even help.

“For a while, I did not accept the fact that I had become a first wife, an iyale. Iya Martha was my father’s first wife. When I was a child, I believed she was the unhappiest wife in the family. My opinion did not change as I grew older. At my father’s funeral, she stood beside the freshly dug grave with her narrow eyes narrowed even further and showered curses on every woman my father had made his wife after he had married her. She had begun as always with my long-dead mother, since she was the second woman he had married, the one who had made Iya Martha a first among not-so-equals.”

The narrative is split into five parts and moves between a present in 2008 when Yejide is returning to her husbands hometown for the funeral of his father, and the past which traverses the various stages of their marriage and their attempts to create a family and the effect of the secrets, lies, interferences and silences on their relationship.

The narrative voice moves from first person accounts of both Yejide and Akin, ensuring the reader gains twin perspectives on what is happening (and making us a little unsure of reality) and the more intimate second person narrative in the present day, as each character addresses the other with that more personal “you” voice, they are not in each other’s presence, but they carry on a conversation in their minds, addressing each other, asking questions that will not be answered, wondering what the coming together after all these years will reveal.

The portrayal of the pressures on this couple to meet expectations and the effect of the past on the present are brilliantly conveyed in this engaging novel, which provides a rare insight into a culture and people who live simultaneously in a modern world that hasn’t yet let go of its patriarchal traditions. Denial plays a lead part and when the knowledge it suppresses is at risk of being exposed, violence erupts.

Simultaneously the country is in the midst of a military coup, which also threatens to destabilise the country and puts its citizens in fear for their lives.

The novel also addresses the significant presence of the sickle-cell gene on people’s lives, something that is perhaps little known in the West, but in Nigeria with a population of 112 million people, 25% of adults have or carry the sickle-cell trait, which can cause high infant mortality and problems in later life. It is a genetic blood disorder that affects the haemoglobin within the red blood cells and the recurring pain and complications caused by the disease (for which there is no cure) can interfere with many aspects of a person’s life.

Stay With Me has been longlisted for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction 2017, a worthy contender in my opinion and a unique social perspective on issues that are both universal to us all illustrating how in particular they impact the Nigerian culture.

Buy A Copy of Stay With Me via Book Depository

 

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Le Muguet – Becoming French

Au mois de mai, fais ce qu’il te plait.

In the month of May do what your heart fancies.

 Provencal proverb

So today I feel like sharing a little bit of French culture with you, the 1st of May is a public holiday in France for the Fête du Travail and the day you will find people offering Le Muguet (Lily of the Valley) to their friends, neighbours and acquaintances, a tradition that began during the Renaissance in 1561, when Charles IX offered them to his subjects as a symbol of porte-bonheur or good luck.

Now associated with the Fête du Travail on 1 May, anyone can sell the flower on the street without requiring a licence or permission. Today I walked into the centre-ville and came across many people who are spending their day, sharing the magic of Le Muguet with the public.

The first year I came to live in France, I learned of the tradition when my next door neighbour knocked on the door and presented me with this delightful flower, explaining its significance.

Six months into adapting to this life, language and culture, it was a welcome gesture and reminded me how important it is to reach out to others, even if they appear to be coping, we can all do with a little ‘porte-bonheur’ from time to time.

And in the spirit of acknowledgement and small celebrations, congratulations to Juliet Greenwood whose book Eden’s Garden’ has been named ‘Welsh Book of the Month’ for May 2012, a sprig of ‘Lily of the Valley’ for you Juliet. To celebrate she is giving away a free signed copy of her book, click here to enter.

Finally, with Spring emanating everywhere, I thought I’d share my recent discovery and purchase of a book of 12 stamps (un carnet de timbres), with its theme ‘the language of flowers’, I hope you can guess the English equivalent:

Le Langage des fleurs

Pensée / Affection

Coquelicot / Joie

Arum / Ardeur

Muguet / Bonheur

Tulipe / Amour

Violette / Modestie

Iris / Tendresse

Œillet / Fidélité

Rose / Passion

Pivione / Générosité

Marguerite / Attirance

Dahlia / Admiration

Bonne fête à tous!