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'Stay With Me' Is A Novel Of Commitment, Culture And The Struggle To Conceive

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Ayobami Adebayo's debut novel, Stay with Me, begins in the midst of Nigeria's political turmoil in the 1980s.

"It's a period of time that I've always been interested in because I think it can help us understand Nigeria even right now," she says.

The book tells the story of Yejide and Akin, a couple who will do anything to have a child — including trying to find love with others.

"They live in a society where having children validates not just the individual but the marriage itself," Adebayo explains.

The novel has been shortlisted for the 2017 Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction.

Interview Highlights

On why she chose to set the novel in Nigeria in the 1980s

I'd always been interested in Nigeria's past. I'm still very interested in the things that happened in the '80s and the '70s because I think that they were very important years for Nigeria. In the '80s we were under a military dictatorship for quite a while and I think that the way we engage with our country as citizens was shaped in many ways by the events that took place in that time. Unfortunately they're not things that we discuss very often.

On the pressure to have children

A relationship where marriage is not even involved — maybe people dated each other and had a child together — would be seen as one that is stronger, lasts longer, is more important than a marital relationship where there's no child. So they live in that time and that world, and the family members feel that they have a right to tell them what to do, and do sometimes really terrible things to them just to make sure that they bend to their will.

On Akin's mother urging him to take a second wife

That's her own solution because she believes this is her first son and he must have children so he might as well have those children with another wife. She's not particular about his first marriage surviving as long as he has children.

On attitudes toward polygamy

It's legal. It's something people could do if they wanted, but it's not as fashionable as it once was. I think even in the '80s many of the younger people at the time were leaving polygamy behind, but I think that many things about the way the marital relationship was set up then still carry over — such that even though a man may not take a second wife, many men still feel that it is within their rights to have a mistress and a wife is supposed to be grateful that they've not taken a second wife.

On Yejide eventually being able to give birth

It comes at a cost. ... I think that when we really want something we sometimes feel as soon as I have this my life is going to be perfect, but it doesn't always turn out that way, does it? So, for her, she has this idea that that is going to be the end of all her troubles, but that itself comes at a cost.

On whether expectations have changed since the 1980s

I wish I could say that a lot has changed. I think that now she might be more willing to consider leaving the marriage much earlier — I mean, there would still be some stigma, is the truth, but it's not as taboo as it was back then. But honestly, when it comes to the kind of pressure she faces for not having a child, that hasn't changed very much, unfortunately.

Eric McDaniel and Barrie Hardymon produced and edited the audio of this interview. Beth Novey adapted it for the Web.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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