BOOK REVIEW | Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo

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Read: February 2017

UK Release: 2nd March 2017

Rating: ★★★★★

Genre: Literary fiction

Synopsis: Yejide is hoping for a miracle, for a child. It is all her husband wants, all her mother-in-law wants, and she has tried everything – arduous pilgrimages, medical consultations, dances with prophets, appeals to God. But when her in-laws insist upon a new wife, it is too much for Yejide to bear. It will lead to jealousy, betrayal and despair.

Unravelling against the social and political turbulence of 80s Nigeria, Stay With Me sings with the voices, colours, joys and fears of its surroundings. Ayobami Adebayo weaves a devastating story of the fragility of married love, the undoing of family, the wretchedness of grief, and the all-consuming bonds of motherhood. It is a tale about our desperate attempts to save ourselves and those we love from heartbreak. Goodreads.

I was provided with a copy of this book by Canongate via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

 Stay With Me tells the story of Yejide and Akin’s marriage, and its eventual disintegration. The novel is told from both their perspectives, beginning in 2008, at the funeral of Akin’s father, where it is revealed that Yejide and Akin have not seen each other in 14 years. The bulk of the novel, however, takes place in Nigeria in the 1980’s, following Yejide and Akin’s struggles to have a child. This novel is absolutely heartbreaking, and throughout, it feels heavy with grief.

Yejide and Akin are under great pressure to conceive, and much of this burden falls on Yejide herself, as it is perceived to be some kind of ‘failure’ on her part. Yejide longs for motherhood, and it’s gut-wrenching what she goes through in order to become a mother. However, Akin, as a firstborn son, faces a pressure of a different kind. At the start of the novel, Akin’s mother introduces Yejide to the second wife she has arranged for him. Akin’s mother believes that Yejide is unable to have children, and that this is the only solution to their perceived problem. It is clear, in their reflections of the past, that Yejide and Akin loved each other deeply, and these outside influences who claim to ‘help’ their marriage, ultimately poison it.

One of the things I liked the most about this novel was Ayobami Adebayo’s characters. She manages to create realistically flawed, sometimes unlikeable characters, that I nonetheless felt so much sympathy for. Yejide, in particular, I found it impossible not to like. I’d expected to prefer Yejide’s narration over Akin’s, but this was not the case. I really liked the dual perspective, and felt that it really contributed to the narrative as a whole. As you might expect, Yejide and Akin keep plenty of secrets from each other, and many of these are revealed to the reader before the other party ever hears of them, meaning that while their chapters were often discussing the same period of time, you’re always getting new information. I also found that Yejide and Akin’s narrative voices were incredibly distinct; it was always clear whose chapter I was reading. This allowed for an intimate portrayal of both their characters and their relationship, and even when I didn’t agree with their actions, I could always understand why they were making the decisions they did.

Another aspect of the book that I liked was how the political situation in Nigeria was woven through it. It was something that I didn’t know too much about, but this didn’t hinder my reading in any way. I felt that this was as its most effective toward the end of the novel, as the political unrest and the catastrophe that Yejide and Akin’s relationship has become, come to a head at the exact same time.

Given that this book deals with societal expectations surrounding the family, it naturally discusses the impact this has on women. Some points in Yejide’s narration felt claustrophobic due to the intense pressure she was feeling, most particularly when she is forced to accept the presence of Akin’s second wife. As the novel progresses, Yejide’s situation only gets worse, and I found myself marvelling that she was able to get through it. Her grief in this book is almost palpable, and I honestly felt like I spent most of this book on the verge of tears. Akin, by contrast, feels distant, and it isn’t until later in the novel that its revealed how he struggles to cope with the expectations in terms of his masculinity. Akin hides plenty from Yejide, but he also hides things from the reader, and I really liked this. This book took turns I wasn’t expecting, particularly in regard to Akin’s character, and it kept me hooked throughout.

I know it’s only March, but so far this is definitely one of my favourite books of the year. Ayobami Adebayo’s writing is beautiful, I was highlighting so many passages as I was reading. It’s hard to go into this book too much without spoiling it, but I’d recommend this to anyone who enjoys intricate, character-focused novels. This is an astonishing debut, and I’m really looking forward to whatever Ayobami Adebayo writes in the future!

Dumbledore’s Army Readathon TBR

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The Dumbledore’s Army readathon is being hosted by Aentee @ Read at Midnight. This readathon aims to encourage people to read more diverse books. The readathon will take place between 1st-15th January, and you can join in by using the hashtag #DAReadathon on Twitter and Instagram. You can find out more information over at the original sign up post.

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I’ve decided to give another readathon a go! I participated in Lauren @ Wonderless Reviews’ Halloween readathon, which was my first ever readathon, and loved the whole experience. So when I saw this readathon I knew I had to give it a shot.I have absolutely no idea how many of these books I’m going to get to. Reading 7 books in 2 weeks is quite the undertaking no matter how you look at it, but it’s also my birthday on January 9th, so we’ll see how that goes!

One of my reading goals for next year is to read more diversely so I’m really looking forward to getting involved in this readathon and making my way through at least some of these books.

All the banners were made by Aentee @ Read at Midnight. The covers will take you to Goodreads.

Continue reading “Dumbledore’s Army Readathon TBR”

BOOK REVIEW | Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

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Read: October 2016

Publication Date: 5th January 2017 (UK hardcover)

Genre: Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction.

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: Effia and Esi: two sisters with two very different destinies. One sold into slavery; one a slave trader’s wife. The consequences of their fate reverberate through the generations that follow. Taking us from the Gold Coast of Africa to the cotton-picking plantations of Mississippi; from the missionary schools of Ghana to the dive bars of Harlem, spanning three continents and seven generations, Yaa Gyasi has written a miraculous novel – the intimate, gripping story of a brilliantly vivid cast of characters and through their lives the very story of America itself. Goodreads.

I received a copy of this book from Penguin UK via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Ever since first reading about Homegoing in, of all places, a Buzzfeed listicle, I’d been desperate to read it. Homegoing has an incredibly ambitious premise, spanning over 200 years in just 300 pages is no easy task, but Yaa Gyasi accomplishes it brilliantly. This book is astounding from start to finish, not in the least because this is Gyasi’s debut novel.

The novel begins with two sisters, Effia and Esi, who are unknown to one another. They are born to the same mother, but in different villages in Ghana. Effia is sent to be a slave trader’s wife, and Esi is sold into slavery. Each subsequent chapter alternately deals with the descendants of Effia and Esi, with Effia’s descendants mostly residing in Ghana, and Esi’s in the United States. Primarily, this novel is concerned with reverberating effects of slavery and colonialism throughout history.

‘That I should live to her my own daughter speak like this. You want to know what weakness is? Weakness is treating someone as though they belong to you. Strength is knowing that everyone belongs to themselves.’

One of the many things that’s so impressive about this book is how well-developed and rich each and every character is. There are twelve different perspectives in this book, and Gyasi’s ability to make each of them distinct and engaging is nothing short of masterful. More time is spent with Effia and Esi, I think, than their descendants, though this is necessary to lay out the main themes of the novel. Admittedly, I was surprised at how short these chapters were. Each chapter could read as its own separate short story, were it not for the bloodline that links all of them together. Sometimes I felt that they were a little abrupt, and it took me a moment to orientate myself.  I did find that sometimes I wanted more from certain characters, which is not to say that these chapters were lacking in any way, it’s just that I admired the way Gyasi managed to capture some of the time periods she explores.

Because this novel is, essentially, a history, this is why the shorter chapters ended up working so well for me by the end. It should go without saying that this book is not an easy read, and with it being so short, Gyasi brings the history of slavery uncomfortably close. In having these periods of extreme violence so close to the insidious racism of the present day exposes the long legacy of the slave trade. Homegoing does not permit the distance that, for instance, academic study does. It forces a confrontation with parts of history that we’re uncomfortable with—perhaps, more specifically, that we white people are uncomfortable with. While, of course, progress has been made, Homegoing highlights what still needs to be done.

The British were no longer selling slaves to America, but slavery had not ended, and his father did not seem to think that it would end. They would just trade one type of shackles for another, physical ones that wrapped around wrists and ankles for the invisible ones that wrapped around the mind.

In this, Homegoing has the benefit of informing people who were perhaps previously undereducated in the injustices suffered by black people, particularly in the United States. I knew about some of the things Gyasi discusses in the novel, but I was never truly aware of the extent of it. For instance, one of the vignettes deals with forced labour in mines, and while the white men are sent there for crimes as awful as murder, black men are sent there for something as minor as not crossing the street as a white woman passed them. It’s an eye-opening read for many reasons, and Gyasi weaves history into her narrative effortlessly.

Homegoing is a novel that should leave you feeling heartbroken, but I think that, first and foremost, is should be a novel that inspires thought and discussion. Gyasi is giving voice to many suppressed or underdiscussed aspects of history. As Gyasi discusses in the novel itself, history is frequently a story that’s being told, and it’s important to consider who has control of the narrative. Homegoing, then, readdresses history, and discusses it from frequently marginalised perspectives.

We believe the one who has the power. He is the one who gets to write the story. So, when you study history, you must always ask yourself, whose story am I missing? Whose voice was supressed so that this voice could come forth? Once you have figured that out, you must find that story too. From there, you begin to get a clearer, yet still imperfect, picture.

Gyasi is truly an incredible talent, and I really look forward to reading anything she writes in the future.

 

TAG | The Diverse Books Tag

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This tag was created by Naz @ Read Diverse Books and I was tagged by Izzi @ Ravenclaw Book Club! I absolutely love the idea for this tag; in recent years I’ve tried to make more of an effort to seek out and read books from authors who aren’t white, or straight, as it’s too easy to fall into the habit.

Here’s Naz’s description of the tag:

The Diverse Books Tag is a bit like a scavenger hunt. I will task you to find a book that fits a specific criteria and you will have to show us a book you have read or want to read.

If you can’t think of a book that fits the specific category, then I encourage you to go look for one. A quick Google search will provide you with many books that will fit the bill. (Also, Goodreads lists are your friends.) Find one you are genuinely interested in reading and move on to the next category.

Everyone can do this tag, even people who don’t own or haven’t read any books that fit the descriptions below. So there’s no excuse! The purpose of the tag is to promote the kinds of books that may not get a lot of attention in the book blogging community.

So let’s get to it!


Find a book starring a lesbian character.

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The Night Watch by Sarah Waters has multiple narrators; two of the women are lesbians, and while it is not explicitly stated, the male narrator is a gay man. Many of the side characters in this book are also lesbian women. The book takes place in London throughout the 1940s, so it’s refreshing and interesting to see a book that primarily focuses on the lives of queer people during this time period. I really enjoyed this book, and it’s one that I’d highly recommend.

Find a book with a Muslim protagonist.

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Sofia Khan is Not Obliged by Ayisha Malik is a wonderful book told from the perspective of the titular character, Sofia, after she has broken up with her boyfriend/potential future husband, after he proves to be a little too close to his parents. It’s a funny and relatable book, and one that I should have a full review of very soon!

Find a book set in Latin America.

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I was surprised to find out that the only book that I actually own that’s set in Latin America is One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, a book I haven’t yet read. Another book I’ve heard a lot about, but don’t own, is The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende; I’m very interested in family sagas, and I don’t read enough of them.

 

Find a book about a person with a disability.

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Not If I See You First by Eric Lindstrom follows Parker Grant, who is blind. I’ve heard a lot of good things about this book, and it always catches my eye in the book shop!

Find a science-fiction or fantasy book with a POC protagonist.

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Proxy by Alex London has a POC protagonist, Syd, who is also gay. Syd is a a proxy for a wealthy kid, Knox, which means that he has to take the punishment for any crimes/transgressions that Knox commits. After Knox crashes a car, killing one of his friends, Syd is sentenced to death—and then it all gets much more complicated. I really enjoyed this book when I read it, and I haven’t really seen too many people talk about it.

In relation to diverse SFF, there’s also Kaleidoscope which is a collection of YA short stories, all of which feature diverse protagonists.

Find a book set in (or about) any country in Africa.

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I’m very interested in Africa39which is a fiction anthology featuring 39 African writers from south of the Sahara. I admittedly haven’t read many African writers, and this looks like a really good way to discover some new authors. I also really want to pick up Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, which for some reason isn’t out in the UK until January next year?

 

Find a book written by an Indigenous or Native author

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I know that Ceremony  by Leslie Marmon Silko is a celebrated piece of Native American literature. And this isn’t Native American, but I have read Potiki by Patrica Grace, which is about an indigenous Maori community in New Zealand.

 

Find a book set in South Asia (Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, etc.)

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I really would like to finish up Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie at some point. This was assigned reading for a postcolonial literature module I did at university, and I got part of the way through it, but ended up having to put it down, as it’s a bit of a chunky book. This is a magical realism novel that follows Saleem, who was born at the precise moment of India’s independence.

Find a book with a biracial protagonist. 

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I found The Chaos by Nalo Hopkinson, which is an urban fantasy book with a mixed race protagonist. As a plus, it seems this book also has LGBTQ+ themes. I hadn’t heard of Nalo Hopkinson before doing some research for this tag, but a lot of her books sound really interesting!

Find a book starring a transgender character, or about transgender issues. 

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There’s been a lot of buzz about If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo lately, and it’s one I think I’ll be picking up in the near future. I’ve also heard amazing things about George by Alex Gino.


And that’s that! I know there are a fair few of these that I haven’t read, but I did go and actively seek out more books for these categories if only to expand my own knowledge (and I’ve ended up adding a fair few books to my wishlist as a result!)

I’m tagging five people today, but if you’re interested in this tag, then I definitely encourage you to do it! I tag:

Apologies if you’ve already done it/already been tagged but otherwise: have fun! And if you have any recommendations for me, based on the categories here, I’d really love to hear them 🙂

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