Date Read: September 29th 2017
Publisher: Riverhead Books
A dazzlingly accomplished debut collection explores the ties that bind parents and children, husbands and wives, lovers and friends to one another and to the places they call home.
In “Who Will Greet You at Home”, a National Magazine Award finalist for The New Yorker, A woman desperate for a child weaves one out of hair, with unsettling results. In “Wild,” a disastrous night out shifts a teenager and her Nigerian cousin onto uneasy common ground. In “The Future Looks Good,” three generations of women are haunted by the ghosts of war, while in “Light,” a father struggles to protect and empower the daughter he loves. And in the title story, in a world ravaged by flood and riven by class, experts have discovered how to “fix the equation of a person” – with rippling, unforeseen repercussions.
Evocative, playful, subversive, and incredibly human, What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky heralds the arrival of a prodigious talent with a remarkable career ahead of her.
Review –★★★★ (4 stars)
What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky is out of this world – literally. I truly enjoyed Arimah’s wild imagination and the finesse with which she created worlds I never knew could exist! This collection embodies what a short story collection should be: ORIGINAL, unpredictable and out-of-the-box.
The title of this collection alone stands out and encompasses the ‘out of this world’ theme of the stories. The 12 short stories follow Nigerians (mostly women) in Nigeria and the Diaspora. Arimah explores: abusive relationships between couples, as well as strained mother-daughter relationships; We get a glimpse of the Biafran war while a father tries to discuss violence with his daughter over Chess; We follow young Nigerian women of the Diaspora trying to find their place in the world; We witness childless women desperately creating children out of durable raw materials while two girls of different social classes express their love through uncertainty and weird, hateful actions.
I wanted to give this collection 5 stars, but I didn’t care for some of the stories, especially the titular story. Furthermore, some storylines felt redundant with most characters’ relatives dead or dying, or something tragic always happening. These things recurring in most of the stories made the reading experience a bit morbid, so What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky is really a 4.5 stars rating for me!
Nevertheless, I have a good number of favorites from this collection. My favorite stories were:
‘The Future Looks Good’ – The ending of this story shook me. I felt a full range of emotions reading this story that briefly delves into the relationship between 2 sisters – Bibi and Ezinma, and their strained family relationship. The thin line between love and hate is wonderfully explored in this story!
‘Wild’ – While reading ‘Wild’, I felt like I knew Ada and Chinyere – the main characters of this story. Ada is a Diaspora kid who’s off to college soon. Her mother sends her to Nigeria to visit her cousin – Chinyere’s family for some time before school begins. Arimah explores women relationships in this story so expertly. We also get a glimpse into a troubled mother-daughter relationship that’s probably the cause of Chinyere’s illegitimate child. There’s a lot going on in this story and I loved every bit of it.
‘Windfalls’ – Arimah wrote this story as if the story belonged to the reader. It starts off like this:
‘The first time you fell, you were six. Before then, you were too young to fall and had to be dropped, pushed, made to slip for the sake of authenticity. You learned to fall out of self-preservation as your mother pushed too hard, dropped from too high a height. You have been living off these falls for years, sometimes hers, but mostly yours. A sobbing child garners more sympathy than a pretty but aging mother of one.’ (pg. 79)
From that first paragraph to the end of the story, my heart was so heavy from all the falling. ‘Windfalls’ is a warped story of an innocent daughter, who’s a pawn in the name of her mother’s thievery. This was excellent storytelling, from beginning to end.
‘Who Will Greet You At Home’ – I will never forget this story. The characters in this story are ordinary human beings, living in an extraordinary world. To be honest, this story was so weird to me as I skimmed through it when it was shortlisted for the Caine Prize this year. But once I gave this story a re-read, I definitely enjoyed and understood it better as a part of this collection! Have you ever heard of a baby made of silky, fibrous strands of hair, who only sucks/eats dirty hair? Ogechi – a childless woman who works at a hair salon, unknowingly creates a demon child and all hell breaks loose!
‘Glory’ – Glorybetogod or Glory (for short), thinks she’s bad luck. She’s almost 30 years old and she’s single as ever. She feels she’s wasted all the wonderful opportunities she’s had in the past and is basically at the point of suicide. This character – Glory, is hilarious. I didn’t know whether to pity her or laugh with her at her miserable life! She finally finds a (Nigerian) man and they start dating. But Glory isn’t sure if she wants to get married after she realizes she and her partner seem to be playing the same ‘game.’ Arimah explores the challenges of modern day relationships so well in this story. Social media and the way it influences how we date today gave this story extra relevance. I especially LOVED that the ending of this story was ambiguous. When executed well, I like short stories that end this way! You get to decide how it ends for yourself.
As Nigerians like to say – ‘Naija no dey carry last,’ they finish first and this collection shows the excellence of Nigerian storytelling. So please believe the hype – What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky deserves all the praise, literary nominations and awards it’s received thus far. Reading this collection was an exciting experience and I have no doubts that Lesley Nneka Arimah’s future debut novel will be EPIC.
★★★★ (4 stars) – Great book. Highly recommend!
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