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!

RECENT READS | #6-10

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Hello! This is a new feature on my blog where I’ll be briefly talking about the books I’ve read this year. I did quarterly wrap up posts last year, but I decided that I wanted to do these wrap up posts with a little more frequency. Really, I’d just like to get into the habit of saying something about every book that I read, and I don’t always have enough to say about a book to warrant a full length review.

I’ve read 11 books so far this year — if you’re wondering why this post is starting at #6, it’s because I talked about the first four books I read this year in my #DAReadathon Wrap Up post back in January, and I’ve also written a full length review of Heartless by Marissa Meyer. I’ve had a great reading year so far, I honestly don’t know that I’ve ever read over ten books before the end of February before. Plus, I’ve given every book I’ve read a pretty good rating, so let’s get into it!

Covers = Goodreads.

Continue reading “RECENT READS | #6-10”

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.

 

Ten Books I’ve Added to my TBR Lately

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I’m back with another Top Ten Tuesday. Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, and this week’s theme is ten books that you’ve added to your TBR recently. Today, I’m going to share with you ten recent additions to my wishlistrather than ten books I’ve actually bought. Until Saturday, when I bought three books, I’d been doing quite well at slowing down my book buying! I consider my wishlist my eventual TBR, so here they are in no particular order! As always, the covers will take you to the Goodreads pages.


1. EVERFAIR BY NISI SHAWL

26114130Everfair is an alternate history novel set in the Congo, exploring what it would have been like if the native populations had discovered steam technologies prior to the arrival of the Belgians, who colonised the area. This is neo-Victorian fiction, which I have read some of, but I do enjoy Victorian literature more generally. The premise of this sounds absolutely fascinating. After reading Homegoing I’ve been very keen to read more historical fiction from a non-white perspective, and I’ve really been wanting to read more books set in African countries. I’m sure curiosity will get the better of me and I’ll end up buying this soon.

 


2. INVISIBLE PLANETS BY KEN LIU (ED.)

30626608 Invisible Planets is a collection of translated Chinese science fiction short stories both edited and translated by Ken Liu. I actually eyed this up in Waterstones recently, and I have no idea what stopped me from buying it. Not only does it have a beautiful cover, it sounds really interesting, too. I’m admittedly not very well read when it comes to science fiction, but I though it would be really interesting seeing how the future is imagined in a different culture.

 

 

 


3. DIFFICULT WOMEN BY ROXANE GAY

30644520I read Roxane Gay’s essay collection Bad Feminist earlier this year and completely loved it. I was a huge fan of the style and tone of her writing, and I already own her novel An Untamed StateDifficult Women is a short story collection that I believe discusses a variety of women of different backgrounds and experiences. It isn’t released until January, so I’m hoping to have read her novel by then, and I’m sure I’ll love her fiction just as much as I enjoyed her essays.

 


 

4. THE GOOD IMMIGRANT BY NIKESH SHUKLA (ED.)

28668534The Good Immigrant is an anthology edited by Nikesh Shukla, focusing on what it’s like to be part of a minority ethnic group in Britain today. I was pretty much sold on this from the start, but after reading Riz Ahmed’s essay titled Typecast as a Terrorist, which features in the collection, it jumped straight to the top of my wishlist. As this focuses on Britain, I’m very excited to eventually read it, and hopefully I’ll discover some new writers in the process. (By the way, I’d highly recommend you read Riz Ahmed’s essay regardless!)


 

5. ANOTHER DAY IN THE DEATH OF AMERICA BY GARY YOUNGE

31819463This is a non-fiction book focused on one day in America when ten young people, aged between nine and nineteen, are killed by guns. None of these deaths made the national news. It is, essentially, about the consequences of the lack of gun control in America. Younge focuses on children as, on average, seven children and teens are killed by guns in America every day. I did a little research on gun violence for my dissertation, and I’m interested in taking that research a little further. While I’m sure that this will be a depressing read, I don’t doubt that it will be an important one.

 


6. THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD BY COLSON WHITEHEAD

30555488This book has been getting a lot of interest lately, and I’m very intrigued by the premise. The Underground Railroad is a slavery narrative wherein the historical Underground Railroad is an actual railroad. I’ve read some reviews saying that the content is brutal, and others saying the same, but that the writing was quite detached. If anything, this has made me more interested to read it. Especially since, as I said before, my background in historical fiction is very lacking.

 

 


7. THE KILLING MOON BY N.K. JEMISIN 

11774272After reading The Name of the Wind last month, I’ve really been in the mood to read more fantasy novels. I’ve heard so many amazing things about N.K. Jemisin, particularly about her novel The Fifth Season, and I’m desperate to read some of her work. However, I think the book of hers I’ll start with is The Killing Moon (though, if you think I’m better off starting with The Fifth Season, let me know!). This is, I think, loosely based on Ancient Egyptian mythology. It’s about a group of priests in service of the dream goddess, and their job is to harvest the magic of the sleeping mind. Again, this is another one with a really cool concept that I’m sure I’ll pick up soon.


 

8. THE GOLDFINCH BY DONNA TARTT

18692995My reasoning behind this one is pretty simple: I loved Donna Tartt’s writing when I read The Secret History and I’d really like to read more of her books. I’m not sure whether I want to read this or The Little Friend next. The Goldfinch is huge and generally well-loved, but people seem less fond of The Little Friend. If you’ve read either, or both of them, let me know which one you think I should read first!

 

 

 


9. THE WOODS, VOL. 1. BY JAMES TYNION IV & MICHAEL DIALYNAS

21412023I saw this over on Lauren’s blog, as she read it as part of her Halloween readathon, and I thought it sounded amazing! Honestly, I don’t know very much about it, but from what I do know it sounds like it’ll be right up my street! I’m so keen to read more comics and graphic novels, so I’m always happy to learn about a series I’d never heard of before.

 

 

 

 


10. VASSA IN THE NIGHT BY SARAH PORTER

28220892I feel like I’ve been seeing this book everywhere lately, so I know I’m eventually going to cave and end up buying it! So many reviews are saying that it’s really weird, so that’s honestly just making me more curious, and more likely to buy it. All I know about it, really, is that it’s set in New York, where the night is slowly getting longer. I also know that it’s inspired by a fairy tale, so I’ll have to make sure I read up on that if I ever end up buying it!

 

 


 

So there you are! There’s a glimpse into my frankly exhaustive wishlist. This probably covers less than 10% of the books that I have sorted into various wishlists on Amazon. I know I’ll never get around to buying or reading them all, but a girl can dream!! Though really, I do think I’ll eventually get around to buying these ones as I’m really interested in all of them.

If you’ve read any of these books I’d love to hear your thoughts on them! That way, it might make it easier for me to decide which ones I’d like to buy first 😉

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