Literary Musings: Stay With Me by Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀

His words were like a blow to my head – they made me dizzy and disoriented. I mumbled them to myself, trying to piece his sentences together again. […] The past flipped itself open like a spooky family album, revealing one familiar picture after the other, highlighting the things standing in plain view, which I had never seen. Things I had refused to see.

 

I owe my enduring love for African and world literature to classes I took with some exceptionally involved professors at Leeds University. It wasn’t that I wanted to deliberately avoid classes in canonical ‘English’ literature. (Evading Great Expectations throughout my degree was entirely a happy coincidence, honest.) Their classes introduced me to writers from some of the most beautiful and troubled places in the world, and being immersed in the literature of cultures previously unknown to me was enthralling and addictive.

This lasting influence led me to Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀’s Baileys-shortlisted debut novel. Set against the political chaos of 1980s Nigeria, Stay With Me is a powerful, plot-driven exposition of a marital struggle able to strike a chord with women all over the world.

In riveting yet simple prose, Adébáyọ̀ keenly demonstrates her character’s fears, dreams and deceptions, and their impassioned frustration at the militarised state of Nigerian politics. Characters evolve soundly: Yejide is an instinctive judge of character with a razor-sharp tongue and dry sense of humour to match; her husband Akin desperately in love, outwardly self-assured and privately proud beyond common sense. Adébáyọ̀’s writing explores the cultural complexities and pressures of a Nigeria still in the grip of a largely patriarchal system.

Hats off must absolutely be extended to Adébáyọ̀ for her pointed and unabashed exploration of a topical subject so specific to Nigeria. The onus on women to bear children (often by any means, as Adébáyọ̀ explores) is represented as an oppressive bind, characteristic of a marital struggle which holds true for many women in twenty-first century Nigeria and all over the world. The pressure placed on Yejide to bear a child is suffocating and relentless. Subjected to an interminable stream of medical examinations, prophets and fertility-inducing rituals that all fail to produce a child, she is eventually presented with a new second wife for Akin. That Yejide steadfastly opposes polygamy is of no consequence. She is expected to make room so that they can both bear the children that Akin – and more importantly his mother, Moomi – longs for.

Following an intense ritual ordeal atop the ‘Mountain of Jaw-Dropping Miracles’ at the hands of the comically rendered Prophet Josiah, the pressure to become pregnant plunges Yejide into an extended psychotic break. Through the emotional clarity of Adébáyọ̀’s writing we accompany Yejide through the unspooling of her psychological state: through her imagined and actual pregnancies, and in the transition from the stigma of childlessness to the trauma of child loss, culminating in the emotional shut-down that leads her to abandon her broken life with Akin altogether.

Akin’s inability to face his truth and what this costs Yejide is aptly summarised by Diana Evans as ‘the damage done by the boundlessness of male pride’. The steps Akin takes to project his childlessness as Yejide’s burden led to an acute disdain and detestation of this character as I read. Yejide’s heart-breaking realisation of what Akin’s deceptions have cost her speaks to the patriarchal bind in which women in Nigeria are held in terms of oppression of individuality and absolute deference to their husbands.

In the vein of some of her predecessors including Chinua Achebe and Chimimanda Adichie, Adébáyọ̀ explores the fractious relationship between tradition and modernity and pressurised expressions of masculinity and femininity in 1980s Nigeria. Episodes of Nigeria’s political tumult are seamlessly woven into the narrative with a depth of understanding that belies Adébáyọ̀’s age and experience. Political coups and revolving dictatorships provide a tangible backdrop for the diurnal routines of Yejide and Akin, from their days of protest and courtship at university to raising terminally ill children amid political uncertainty and an interminable undercurrent of state violence.

Emotional and compelling, Adébáyọ̀’s novel is a brave contemporary exposition of the Nigerian female experience. Stay With Me will leave you pondering the deceptions and fates of Yejide and Akin long after you have turned the final pages.

 

This story made me revisit the universality of the female experience for myself, and reminded me of the importance of reading writing beyond reflections of our own cultural experiences. Of reading outside of your own, tiny geopolitical bubble.

Do this where you can. It’s important.

Some Things That Make Me A Person

Following on from my previous post in the vein of introductions/ hello this is me I’m here *waves*:

In-keeping with the age of chronic over-sharing in which we appear to be living, I thought it due and fair to shed light on some of the quirks and convictions that sum me up as a writer and human, as these will largely inform the writing that here appears. And so rather as they fell from the jumble of my brain, a list of some things which make up the person behind these thoughts can be found below:

I am an aspiring (failing) early-riser, seasoned gin-drinker, and communications specialist/ freelance writer maintaining a loose hold on most of my marbles.

I am a literature graduate who chose to study Chimimanda Adichie instead of Great Expectations.

I write, I read, I collect pins bearing obscure pop culture references and/ or passive aggressive statements, I travel a lot. (The pins in the above photo I obtained mostly via the wonderfully kooky Kate Gabrielle.)

Names commonly associated with myself include Lauren, Lo, Pop, Lolobrain, and Mancane (spoken: man-kaa-ne with a Zulu click. Informal translation: ‘small one’).

My addiction to change consistently uproots me, and my constant uprootings help to ground me. I am aware of how contradictory this logic first appears.

When I was five I microwaved my Barbies into a seething molten grave.

I fiercely advocate for justice and equality in all things, and use my voice and abilities to make constructive noise on these issues where possible and/ or necessary. Do this if you can. IT’S IMPORTANT.

I am a northern girl through and through – Manchester is my home. Other places I have called home include South Africa, Canada, the Netherlands and too many tents and temporary structures to count.

I love digging into offbeat topics I know nothing about and will enter into discussion with anyone about pretty much anything.

I naturally gravitate towards mountains and books, and take great comfort in the sense of overwhelming individual insignificance I feel when immersed in either or both of these things.

In case you hadn’t already picked up on it: publishing my writing on the internet scares the hell out of me.

I sometimes enjoy indulging in overly complex and complicated sentences. The wordy webs woven in the stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald fascinate me, and whilst never assuming to compare myself to this troubled and talented literary enigma, sometimes there are just too many brilliant words that cannot be sacrificed, points that cannot go unmade, sentiments that cannot go unexpressed – and so to hell with simple sentences.

I am a feminist, and I am tired of the raised eyebrows and sidelong glances that all-too-often follow this identification. I hope these knee-jerk reactions will soon become less frequent. The political, social and economic equality of the sexes is not something any rational person should fear. IT’S IMPORTANT.

I am forcibly learning to overcome my vitriolic hatred for unobscured photographs of my face.

I value compassion and independence above most things, and actively seek out people(s) that do likewise.

Other loves include understated affection, chronically oversized jumpers and mozzarella pizza.

As a person so far incapable of doing so, the concept of settling, in both geographic and emotional terms, fascinates me.

I have decided not to limit myself and write ad-hoc about any and all of the above (jumpers and all – riveting), and hope to indulge in a host of other disconnected subjects for good measure.

With this profusion of quirks and confessions I welcome you to this, my small small corner of The Internet.

I hope to write often and learn a lot. I would love you to read along from time to time and laugh/ agree or disagree/ inwardly tut/ generally react, and freely share your thoughts/ comments/ questions/ qualms/ queries/ cries of anguish with me when you do.

Lo x

Take #1: Welcome to Lo on The Internet.

If you’re reading this it means I have taken the plunge and/ or taken temporary leave of my senses and put some words on The Internet.

I have been making excuses and generally skirting around the ‘Publish’ button on this blog for almost a month now. Identifying myself as a writer online seemed such an impossible and fake thing to do, and thinking about other people reading my words still makes me vaguely nauseous. But in the name of writing for myself and to give myself a break, here they are. My words, that is.

I thought I should use my first post or two as curator of Grassroots Propaganda to contextualise this online endeavour of mine, and give some kind of introduction before happily fading into the anonymous haze of online writing.

I have always loved writing and cautiously aim, with Grassroots Propaganda, to make a concrete(ish) habit of it. I hope to share lovingly articulated tales of my travels both past and present; some thoughts on books and music, both that I like and that I don’t; and musings on the evolving spectacle of current affairs and popular culture with which I am vaguely enthralled. (Read: frequently scrolls Trump’s Twitter feed in varying degrees of trepidation and incredulity – sentiments you’d think would have numbed this far into his presidency, and yet POTUS’ woefully inaccurate punctuation usage and nonsensical accusations continue to simultaneously alarm and amuse.)

More than anything I am writing for me, in an attempt to stave off my brain’s ever-imminent deterioration into Netflix-scrolling #unwoke zombie mush. A blog of thoughts and words and maybe a photo or two, curated by me, at the mercy of the internet. This is what I like to imagine Grassroots Propaganda will be.

You are warmly invited to accompany me in this endeavour and peruse my musings at your leisure, and in spite of myself and my reservations, I hope you will. Or, you know, don’t. That’s also fine. (But I get nervous and company is nice, so do stay.)

Lo x