Stay with Me by Nigerian writer Ayobami Adebayo, the third SJP Pick on Book Club Central, is a dramatic and complex portrait of a marriage precipitated by love at first sight between two university students: Akin, the eldest son in an established family, and Yejide, whose mother, about whom she knows next to nothing, died giving birth to her, leaving Yejide at the mercy of her father’s other wives. Their happy marriage comes under pressure when Akin and Yejide fail to have children, and their attempts to solve this dilemma pitch traditions against modernity; echo the political upheavals in Nigeria during the 1980s and 1990s; and raise provocative questions about self, family, gender roles, love, and trust. The novels below illuminate similar confusions and conflicts in settings both similar and different.
by Lynne Bryant
One plotline in Stay with Me involves the hereditary disease sickle-cell anemia, which also plays a grim role in Bryant’s novel. Avery Pritchett, who is white, fled her home in Greendale, Mississippi, a decade ago, pregnant with the child of a young black man she loves, Aaron Monroe. She now returns to Greendale with her daughter, Celi, who is suffering from sickle-cell anemia, leading to difficult confrontations with past sorrows and violence.
Daughters Who Walk This Path
by Yejide Kilanko
Growing up in Ibadan, Nigeria, in the 1980s, Morayo has an idyllic childhood playing with her beloved younger sister, Eniayo, and falling in love with a thoughtful schoolmate, Kachi. But her life is turned upside down when she is repeatedly attacked by a male cousin, a horror no one in the family will talk about until her aunt, who was also raped as a teenager, takes Morayo under her wing. Kilanko’s powerful debut reveals hidden dimensions of women’s lives in Nigeria.
Fates and Furies
by Lauren Groff
Like Adebayo, Groff tells the story of a marriage—the long, unfailingly passionate union of glamorous Lotto, an actor turned successful playwright, and Mathilde, who is his rock—from both husband’s and wife’s points of view, ultimately revealing profoundly jarring secrets.
by Akwaeke Emezi
In Stay with Me, Yejide tries to commune with otherworldly forces and nearly loses her sanity. In her intense debut, Emezi draws on a traditional Igbo myth to shape the story of Ada, a young Nigerian woman beset by evil Ọgbanje spirits, which results in her division into multiple selves. Narrated by the voices battling for control over Ada’s mind, Emezi’s daring, dark, and brilliant novel charts a descent into madness.
Half a Yellow Sun
by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Adichie, with whom Adebayo studied, filters the dreams and tragedies of 1960s Nigeria through the minds and experiences of her stupendously compelling characters, including Ugwu, a bright and kind young teen who has left his bare-bones village to work as a houseboy; beautiful and cultured Olanna; and her lover and Ugwu’s employer, Odenigbo, a radical professor full of hope for newly independent Nigeria in spite of ingrained ethnic divides and colonialism’s deleterious aftereffects.
Portraits of a Marriage
by Sándor Márai, Translated by George Szirtes
The great Hungarian writer Márai (1900–89) depicts a marriage during the deceptively peaceful years between the two world wars in three psychologically astute interior monologues—that of a Budapest industrial magnate, his beautiful wife, and a servant girl—creating a gracefully insightful tale of marital loneliness and secrets.
What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky
by Lesley Nneka Arimah
Arimah, a young writer of the UK, Nigeria, and the U.S., presents a head-spinning short story collection about young women who can’t stop themselves from doing the wrong thing, especially by refusing to adhere to traditional Nigerian expectations for females to be obedient and self-sacrificing. For all her psychological and social precision and authenticity, Arimah also ventures daringly and compellingly into magic realism and even tells a ghost story.
Donna Seaman is Adult Books Editor for Booklist, a recipient of the Studs Terkel Humanities Service Award, a member of the Content Leadership Team for the American Writers Museum, and a frequent presenter at literary events and programs. Seaman’s new book is Identity Unknown: Rediscovering Seven American Women Artists.