Nigeria author Ayobami Adebayo only African in running for British literary award

Ayobami Adebayo has been shortlisted for a British literary award, the Wellcome Book Prize

Nigerian author Ayobami Adebayo’s debut novel Stay with Me has been long-listed for a British literary award, the Wellcome Book Prize.

Adebayo, 30, is the only African on the long-list of 12 for the £30,000 ($42,000) award.

The New York Times described Stay with Me as a “stunning debut novel”, while its publishers say it is “the heart-breaking tale of what wanting a child can do to a person, a marriage and a family; a powerful and vivid story of what it means to love not wisely but too well”.

According to New York Times, the two narrators of Ayobami Adebayo’s stunning debut novel — a Nigerian woman named Yejide and her husband, Akin — remember the stories they heard when they were children, and they hope to pass on these stories to their own sons and daughters.

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They are folk tales featuring talking animals and magic potions, but while they often come with an old-fashioned moral (“He who has children owns the world”), Yejide devises her own versions, adding new bits and pieces as she goes along, turning them into allegories that speak to her own life and that of her country.

Like those fables, Adebayo’s “Stay With Me” — a beautifully produced book with a Matisse-inspired jacket that felicitously captures the spirit of the author’s writing — has a remarkable emotional resonance and depth of field.

It is, at once, a gothic parable about pride and betrayal; a thoroughly contemporary — and deeply moving — portrait of a marriage; and a novel, in the lineage of great works by Chinua Achebe and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, that explores the pull in Nigeria between tradition and modernity, old definitions of masculinity and femininity, and newer imperatives of self-definition and identity.

Beginning in the 1980s, a period of political tumult in Nigeria, and moving on through 2008, “Stay With Me” fluently explores the interface between the personal and the political, and the precariousness of stability and safety in both realms: how public events — be they elections, protests or coups — take place while people are getting on with their daily lives, eating or opening a window, fighting with a spouse or taking care of a sick child; how dreams, ideals and romantic relationships can be shaped by distant but momentous developments on the national stage.

Adebayo — who was born in Lagos, Nigeria, and who studied with Adichie and Margaret Atwood — has two master’s degrees in creative writing, and “Stay With Me” is deeply informed by a knowledge of contemporary and classic literature.

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