Ayòbámi Adébáyò started working on “Stay With Me” in 2011. “I began with initially what I felt was a short story,” she said, of a married couple having their last fight before finally separating. “I felt that story was done, but I just felt there was something just beneath the surface that I was not able to access yet.” It took five years, and “at least seven” rewrites before the Nigerian author was ready to release her first novel.
“Stay With Me,” which comes out this summer in paperback, follows a couple in Nigeria through their struggles with infertility, polygamy, political upheaval, and personal tragedy. Growing up, Adébáyò said, these weren’t necessarily subjects discussed easily. In particular, she added, the silence around infertility weighed heavily on women in a culture that expects motherhood. “The pressure was more on women,” she said, “because for men they could marry another wife and have children with them.”
Even into her mother’s generation, “a lot of the regard and respect that should accrue to you just because you’re human, is tied to your status as a mother. Which puts a lot of pressure on people,” said Adébáyò, who was born in 1988. “I hope it’s going to be different for us.”
First published in 2017, the book was lauded by critics on both sides of the Atlantic. “It’s had a remarkably good reception in Nigeria,” said Adébáyò. “It’s been surprising to me, how much it seems to have resonated with people.” Nigerian parents joke that children have four options: become a doctor, an engineer, a lawyer, or a disgrace to their family. But Adébáyò, whose mother is a doctor, said she always had her parents’ support in pursuing literary dreams. Still, “with the success the book has had, I am most happy for my parents. I am so grateful that now they can say, ‘Our daughter is a writer.’ ”
Adébáyò will read at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Brookline Booksmith.
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Kate Tuttle, president of the National Book Critics Circle, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.