SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
When a Nigerian woman named Yejide wants to become pregnant, she breastfeeds a goat on top of the mountain of jaw dropping miracles. Ayobami Adebayo's novel "Stay With Me" begins in the political turmoil of Nigeria in the 1980s but also with a personal story of a couple who are in love and will do anything to have a child, including trying to find love with others. "Stay With Me" is Ayobami Adebayo's debut novel. It's been shortlisted for the 2017 Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction. She joins us from Nigeria by Skype. Thank you so much for being with us.
AYOBAMI ADEBAYO: Thank you so much for having me.
SIMON: What made you decide to set this story in the 1980s when, I gather, you were barely born?
ADEBAYO: I had always been interested in Nigeria's past and still very interested in things that happened in the '80s and the '70s because I think that they were important years for Nigeria. In the '80s, we were under 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 are not things that we discussed very often, you know? So it's a period of time that I've always been interested in because I think that it can help us to understand Nigeria even right now.
SIMON: Yejide and Akin, her husband, love each other. But how does their difficulty in starting a family begin to come between them?
ADEBAYO: This is because they live in a society where having children validates, not just the individual, but the marriage itself such that a relationship that - where marriage is not even involved, maybe people dated each other and they had a child together, would be seen as one that is stronger, lasts longer. It's more important than marital relationship where there's no child. So they live in that time and in that world. And the family members just feel that they have the right to tell them what to do and to do sometimes really terrible things to them just to make sure that they bend to their will.
SIMON: Well Akin's mother urges them to take a second wife, right?
ADEBAYO: Yes. And that's her own solution because she believes that this is her first son and you must have children. So you might as well have those children with another wife. She's not particular about his first marriage surviving as long as he has children.
SIMON: We should underscore this was and is, as I gather, perfectly legal in most of Nigeria. But it's not something modern couples are doing, is it?
ADEBAYO: No, it's no longer fashionable as it used to be. It's not, and it's legal. It's something that people could do if they wanted. But it's not as fashionable as it once was. And I think even in the '80s, many of the younger people at that time were sort of leaving polygamy behind. But I think that many things about the way the marital relationship was setup then still carry over such that even though a man might not take a second wife, many men still feel that it's within their rights to have a mistress. And the wife is supposed to be grateful that, you know, they're not taking a second wife because they could very well do that.
SIMON: Without relating the story, which - we should say that Yejide is able to have children but that comes with its own sadness, doesn't it?
ADEBAYO: Yes. It comes at a cost. And I think that that's the story that is sold to many women. And it's not just women. I think that when we really want something, we sometimes feel that as soon as I have this, my life's going to be perfect. And - 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 our troubles. But that itself comes at a cost.
SIMON: Yeah. We won't mention what that cost is. But let's just say that it's hard for parents even to - and not just parents - to even read about. If you wanted to bring Yejide's story through to our times, what's changed in Nigeria or what hasn't?
SIMON: Well, 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. That's the truth. But it's not as taboo as it was back then, you know? But honestly, when it comes to the kind of pressure she faces for not having a child, that hasn't changed very much, unfortunately.
SIMON: Ayobami Adebayo, her debut novel "Stay With Me." Thank you so much for being with us.
ADEBAYO: Thank you so very much for having me.
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