Frying Plantain by Zalika Reid-Benta

Date Read: July 21st 2019

Published: June 4th 2019

Publisher: House of Anansi Press

Pages: 272

 

The Blurb

Kara Davis is a girl caught in the middle – of her Canadian nationality and her desire to be a ‘true’ Jamaican, of her mother and grandmother’s rages and life lessons, of having to avoid being thought of as too ‘faas’ or too ‘quiet’ or too ‘bold’ or too ‘soft’.

Set in Little Jamaica, Toronto’s Eglinton West neighbourhood, Kara moves from girlhood to the threshold of adulthood, from elementary school to high school graduation, in these twelve interconnected stories. We see her on a visit to Jamaica, startled by the sight of a severed pig’s head in her great aunt’s freezer; in junior high, the victim of a devastating prank by her closest friends; and as a teenager in and out of her grandmother’s house, trying to cope with the ongoing battles between her unyielding grandparents.

A rich and unforgettable portrait of growing up between worlds, Frying Plantain shows how, in one charged moment, friendship and love can turn to enmity and hate, well-meaning protection can become control, and teasing play can turn to something much darker. In her brilliantly incisive debut, Zalika Reid-Benta artfully depicts the tensions between mothers and daughters, second-generation Canadians and first-generation cultural expectations, and Black identity and predominately white society.

 

Review – ★★★ (3 stars)

The title of this collection is so cool! Everyone loves fried plantain, so the title is truly inviting (Fun fact – fried plantain is called kelewele in Ghana (when diced & spiced), dodo in Nigeria, alloco in Cote d’Ivoire). Frying Plantain is a coming-of-age collection of interconnected short stories that follow Canadian-Jamaican girl, Kara Davis. Initially, I thought with each successive story, I’d be engrossed into Kara’s journey as she went through childhood into adolescence. But now, a part of me feels a little disappointed by this collection. While reading, I felt like I was drowning because I found the characters relentlessly toxic, hence making my reading experience a bit sour.

The collection commences with a story called ‘Pig Head.’ In ‘Pig Head’, we’re introduced to Kara who is on holiday in Jamaica with her family. While on holiday, Kara is sent to get something from the freezer and is terrified by the sight of a huge severed pig head stored there. Kara goes back to her 4th grade classmates in Canada and tells fibs about the pig head. She brags about how she helped kill the pig and gives her classmates gory details of the killing, which eventually land her into trouble with her school’s principal and her mother. Kara fabricates the story in an effort to seem unique and to claim her Jamaican roots even though her neighborhood friends call her ‘stush’ (posh/boujee).

Throughout this collection, Kara tries to fit in by either lying, falling prey to peer pressure or staying quiet to keep the peace. As a child, she spends a lot of time with (toxic) neighborhood friends, who are also of Caribbean heritage. Among her group of friends, some are even straight from the Islands and they impose their Caribbean authenticity by constantly reminding others within the group – including Kara, of how un-Jamaican/Caribbean they are –

Miss Canada gwine fi bust out the patois? Yuh need to stop Ja-fakin’ it, Kara – pg. 32

 

I enjoyed the short stories that explored Kara’s relationships with boys and wanted more! I found the descriptions of her first kiss so cringey yet hilarious, as Reid-Benta aptly portrays the awkwardness –

I told him he could kiss me, and then he inched forward and meshed his lips with mine… My own lips were still puckered when he started to open his mouth. He pressed the tip of his tongue against my teeth until I unclenched and allowed him access. I couldn’t figure him out… I hunched my shoulders instead, trying to show eagerness, and twirled my tongue around his, but he got excited and shoved his tongue so far down my throat I gagged. I pulled away – pg. 116

But Kara’s mother’s sharp gaze always marred my joy of witnessing Kara find love (or have fun, in general). Kara is raised by a single mother – Eloise, who seems pretty miserable. Initially I didn’t feel any love between mother and daughter, but later I realized Eloise’s brash, over-controlling manner was driven by fear. Eloise raises Kara on her own but with the help of her own parents, who come with their own set of issues. *sigh* Eloise’s relationship with her parents (Kara’s grandparents) is tragic – there is a lot of emotional abuse, verbal abuse, manipulation and gaslighting between Eloise and her parents, but also between Kara and her grandparents. Eloise’s parents also have a dysfunctional marriage – but I don’t even have the energy to get into their marriage. Kara’s family dynamics in this book are just A LOT.

Since Kara is raised in an over-controlled, stern environment, her personality is unassuming and quite unclear. She comes off as meek, subdued and repressed; but she can defend herself or react to unfair treatment when pushed to her limit, which is often.

According to other readers on Goodreads, this collection is very Canadian. I wasn’t sensitive to the Canadian-ness of this collection, as I wouldn’t even know where to catch the nuances. I’ve only visited Canada three times (Toronto when I was about 5 years old, Montréal as a sophomore in college and Windsor when I was a senior in college), so I didn’t have the eye for spotting the Canadian vibes from the collection. I did like the mention of poutine though, when Kara and her friends trekked through a snow storm just to eat some.

I thoroughly enjoyed Zalika Reid-Benta’s writing style. She has a beautiful way with words such that I vividly saw Kara’s quiet awkwardness; I could hear Eloise shouting at Kara to stop crying; I could feel Kara’s desire to fit in with her fellow Caribbean friends. Zalika Reid-Benta’s writing is the reason I finished this collection. She has a gift with words, and I surely admire that!

I think I would have enjoyed this collection more if I was new to African Diaspora literature. But I’ve read countless stories like this, so it didn’t really stand out to me as super unique. I just find it very interesting how Caribbean women writers always seem to touch on strained mother-daughter relationships in their work. I haven’t read a ton of work by Caribbean women writers, but so far Jamaica Kincaid, Edwidge Danticat, Naomi Jackson, Alexia Arthurs ALL touch on this strained relationship in their stories. Why is this type of relationship so prevalent in their work? Anyway, even though I wasn’t blown away by this collection, I look forward to reading more of Reid-Benta’s work! She’s a pretty damn good writer.

Thank you to House of Anansi Press for sending me a review copy of the book!

★★★ (3 stars) – Good book. I recommend it, I guess.

Purchase Frying Plantain on Amazon

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How To Love A Jamaican: Stories by Alexia Arthurs

Date Read: March 5th 2019

Published: 2018

Publisher: Picador

Pages: 256

The Blurb

Tenderness and cruelty, loyalty and betrayal, ambition and regret—Alexia Arthurs navigates these tensions to extraordinary effect in her debut collection about Jamaican immigrants and their families back home. Sweeping from close-knit island communities to the streets of New York City and midwestern university towns, these eleven stories form a portrait of a nation, a people, and a way of life.

In “Light-Skinned Girls and Kelly Rowlands,” an NYU student befriends a fellow Jamaican whose privileged West Coast upbringing has blinded her to the hard realities of race. In “Mash Up Love,” a twin’s chance sighting of his estranged brother—the prodigal son of the family—stirs up unresolved feelings of resentment. In “Bad Behavior,” a couple leave their wild teenage daughter with her grandmother in Jamaica, hoping the old ways will straighten her out. In “Mermaid River,” a Jamaican teenage boy is reunited with his mother in New York after eight years apart. In “The Ghost of Jia Yi,” a recently murdered student haunts a despairing Jamaican athlete recruited to an Iowa college. And in “Shirley from a Small Place,” a world-famous pop star retreats to her mother’s big new house in Jamaica, which still holds the power to restore something vital.

Alexia Arthurs emerges in this vibrant, lyrical, intimate collection as one of fiction’s most dynamic and essential authors.

 

Review – ★★★★ (4 stars)

My 4 stars rating for How To Love A Jamaican doesn’t mean I loved all the stories. In fact, out of the 11 short stories, I absolutely loved just 4 of them. But I give this collection 4 out of 5 stars because I LOVED how this collection made me feel. I carried this book everywhere with me for the two weeks it took me to finish it. I was always eager to pick it up again and didn’t mind re-reading some stories just to be in the world of the characters again. It took me a while to finish this collection mostly because of school (this is ALWAYS my excuse, have you noticed?), but also because I wanted to take my time and imbibe myself into the stories! It took me forever to get my hands on this book, so I just wanted to savor every word. Special thanks to my friend Kobby from @bookworm_man on Bookstagram who initially lent me his copy, then later allowed me to keep it 🙂

While some stories fell flat for me – especially ‘Bad Behavior’, ‘Mash Up Love’, ‘Shirley From a Small Place’ (I wasn’t fond of how Shirley’s story resembled Rihanna Fenty’s career trajectory), I mostly enjoyed how accessible Arthurs’s writing was – especially the patois. At the beginning of the book, she makes it clear that this collection is ‘For Jamaicans’ and she is true to her words. Reading stories about Jamaicans, mostly IN Jamaica or Jamaicans who were born and bred in Jamaica without migrating out of the Island, was definitely refreshing and inspiring.

••

My favorite stories were:

Island – This story is excellent. Island is about three girlfriends who travel to a Caribbean island for a wedding. One of the girls in this group is a lesbian and her friends subtly malign her throughout the trip. The tension within the friend group was palpable and maddening. It had me thinking about friendship – why we call certain people our friends and how our choice of friends reflects who we are, or who we aren’t.

On Shelf – This story was pretty ordinary from beginning to end. But Arthurs’s ability to just tell a normal story about an academically successful 40 year old Jamaican woman in the US, settling with a man below her standards in order to move forward with life and bear a child felt very real.

Light-skinned girls and Kelly Rowlands – I love that the collection commences with this story! It kept me wanting more and I eagerly anticipated reading the rest of the stories, thanks to this one. This story follows two young women in college – NYU, who become friends unexpectedly. Cecelia is dark-skinned; upper class; only dates white men; of Jamaican heritage but was born and bred in California. Brittney on the other hand is from a low/middle-class family; prefers dating black men; was born in Jamaica but moved to Brooklyn when she was six years old. I loved the sisterhood these friends shared, but I also despised the tension between them, especially when they had disagreements. I felt Brittney constantly tried to undermine Cecelia’s Jamaicanness/Blackness, because she was more or less an ‘oreo’ and had never been to Jamaica before. The ending of this story just reminded me of gnawing issues I have with folks born and raised in their native lands versus pure Diasporans.

The recurrent themes in this collection include: good ole’ problematic Jamaican pigmentocracy (aka- colorism), mother-daughter relationships (I find many Caribbean women writers love writing on this theme! So far Edwidge Danticat, Jamaica Kincaid and Naomi Jackson all touch on this theme and always suggest a fraught relationship between mothers and daughters in their writing), mermaids, being haunted by ghosts, love & relationships. I especially LOVED when queer characters and issues surrounding members of the LGBTQ spectrum were introduced into stories – they were the most compelling.

★★★★ (4 stars) – Great book. Highly recommend!

Purchase How To Love A Jamaican on Amazon

AND THE 2018 CAINE PRIZE WINNER IS…

YES, it’s that time of year again! In less than a month, the 2018 Caine Prize winner will be announced!

For those who are not familiar, the Caine Prize for African Writing, which was first awarded in year 2000 is an award “open to writers from anywhere in Africa for work published in English. Its focus is on the short story, reflecting the contemporary development of the African story-telling tradition” (source).

Some notable winners of the Caine Prize include (click on links to my reviews):

  • Leila Aboulela, from Sudan (2000) – author of novels Minaret, The Translator, Lyrics Alley, among other works. 
  • Binyavanga Wainaina, from Kenya (2002) – founding editor of Kwani?, author of memoir One Day I Will Write About This Place and the essay How To Write About Africa found in various literary magazines.
  • Yvonne A. Owuor, from Kenya (2003) – author of the novel, Dust.
  • E.C Osondu, from Nigeria (2009) – author of the novel This House is not For Sale and collection Voice of America: stories.
  • NoViolet Bulawayo, from Zimbabwe (2011) – author of the novel, We Need New Names. 

Previously shortlisted writers include: (2001) Mia Couto from Mozambique, (2002) Chimamanda Adichie from Nigeria, (2006) Laila Lalami from Morocco, (2013) Chinelo Okparanta from Nigeria, (2013) Pede Hollist from Sierra Leone, (2014) Tendai Huchu from Zimbabwe, (2013 & 2015) Elnathan John from Nigeria, among others!

The Caine Prize and the shortlisted stories play huge roles in the authors I read from Africa. Many Caine Prize winners and shortlisted writers have found great success and I’ve reviewed a good number of these writers’ works here on African Book Addict!


This year, the Caine Prize shortlist comprises of five talented writers with unique short stories (left to right):

(Image via caineprize.com)

Nonyelum Ekwempu (Nigeria) – Read her story: American Dream

Stacy Hardy (South Africa) – Read her story: Involution

Olufunke Ogundimu (Nigeria) – Read her story: The Armed Letter Writers

Makena Onjerika (Kenya) – Read her story: Fanta Blackcurrant

Wole Talabi (Nigeria) – Read his story: Wednesday’s Story


So this year, we have 4 stories by women and 1 story by a man ; 3 out of 5 stories are by Nigerians, 1 story each by a Kenyan and South African. Nigerian excellence always dominates these shortlists – what’s new? For the past 4 years, I’ve been providing commentary on which of the shortlisted stories I enjoyed and disliked… but this year, I will not be reviewing any of them.

I hope you all get a chance to read some of the stories linked above. May the best story win!

Which story is your favorite? Who do you think will win the Caine Prize this year?

The winner will be announced in London at Senate House Library in partnership with SOAS, on 2 July 2018. Good luck to all the shortlisted candidates!

 

You can also check out past commentary on the Caine Prize below:

2014 | 2015  | 2016 | 2017

Pepperpot: Best New Stories from the Caribbean edited by Olive Senior

Date Read: November 10th 2017

Published: 2014

Publisher: Peekash Press / Akashic Books

Pages: 224

 

 

 

The Blurb

Akashic Books and Peepal Tree Press, two of the foremost publishers of Caribbean literature, launch a joint Caribbean-focused imprint, Peekash Press, with this anthology. Consisting entirely of brand-new stories by authors living in the region (not simply authors from the region), this collection gathers the very best entries to the Commonwealth Short Story Prize, including a mix of established and up-and-coming writers from islands throughout the Caribbean.

 

Review –★★★★ (4 stars)

I always enjoy reading anthologies. It’s an opportunity for me to discover new writers and to get a taste of their writing styles through their short stories. I discovered a good number of new Caribbean writers from Pepperpot, especially as this anthology purposely featured stories by lesser-known Caribbean writers, mostly residing on the Islands. I absolutely love that these stories contain local dialect WITHOUT a glossary at the back of the book. If a reader wants to look-up a certain word or phrase, they can Google it! It’s almost as if this anthology was written for readers in the Caribbean and not necessarily Western readers/ the white gaze – which is awesome.

It was refreshing to read a Caribbean anthology free from Island tropes like the sandy beaches & blue skies, palm trees, coconuts, cliché Jamaican jargon – nope, not in this collection! The stories in Pepperpot explore a myriad of issues, such as: family secrets, violence, domestic abuse, infidelity, spirituality (Christianity), incest, death, homosexuality, fraught relationships, coming-of-age, poverty, grief, mental illness. Every story in this anthology had a different flavor – it’s as if the editor (Olive Senior) carefully selected these stories such that the flavor of this pepperpot (pun intended) wouldn’t be off balance.

Even though the 13 stories in this anthology were divided into 3 parts, I felt most of the stories had a cryptic, mysterious nature to them, and I really loved that. Among the 13 short stories – 5 stories are from Jamaica, 4 stories are from Trinidad & Tobago and 1 story each from Belize, Antigua & Barbuda, Barbados and the Bahamas.

• •

My favorite stories were:

The Science of Salvation by Dwight Thompson (Jamaica) – This story had me at the edge of my seat. The threat of violence from a notorious gang member, coupled with the staunch Christian lifestyle of a family in a panic-struck neighborhood made for an intense tale. The evolution of the story was so heartless and unexpected. I loved it.

This Thing We Call Love by Ivory Kelly (Belize) – What I loved most about this story was the dialogue in local dialect and the mentions of popular Belizean dishes like Salbutes, Garnaches, Panades etc. This tale was a pretty hilarious take on a woman trying to prevent her husband from committing adultery.

A Good Friday by Barbara Jenkins (Trinidad & Tobago) – This story started off strange as hell! It’s Good Friday (the day Jesus was tortured and killed) and a woman walks into a bar from church, and starts crying. A fellow at the bar who had been admiring this woman from afar approaches her and a strange conversation ensues. The way this tale evolved was just so unpredictable and… had me in awe!

All the Secret Things No One Ever Knows by Sharon Leach (Jamaica) – “Ten years ago, I found out that I wasn’t my father’s only girlfriend” is the first line of this story. YES, it’s insane! This tale turned out to be pretty sick and twisted. I NEED to indulge in more of Sharon Leach’s work! Lord!

Amelia at Devil’s Bridge by Joanne C. Hillhouse (Antigua & Barbuda) – I was happy to see Joanne C. Hillhouse’s name as one of the contributors of this anthology, as she is a favorite of mine (and a reader of this book blog, which is how I got to know her! Last summer, I had a pretty popular book chat on Caribbean literature with Hillhouse). This story felt so light and read so smoothly. Hillhouse captured nuance in such a beautiful way. The tale follows a naked 13 year old girl – Amelia, who seems to be a ghost at Devil’s Bridge. It’s a layered, mysterious tale that explores Amelia’s family life.

Waywardness by Ezekel Alan (Jamaica) – Initially, I thought this story was brilliant. Alan writes with such force and he’s extremely vivid with his descriptions. But as the story progressed, I found the storyline quite ridiculous to the point where I was started to feel queasy and confused. This tale follows Brian, who is described as a deranged bisexual… he’s homeless, he’s a rapist, he sleeps with his cousin (consensual sex) and he seems poor. In short, I found this tale brutal, yucky, violent and impossible! The storyline felt too forced and I wasn’t sure if it was meant to be a satire on homosexuality in Jamaica (?). But I commend Ezekel Alan. His imagination is WILD.

Mango Summer by Janice Lynn Mather (Bahamas) – *sigh* This tale follows 2 sisters – the younger sister is rude and nosy, while the older sister is hardworking and actively tries to protect her younger sister. The sisters quarrel from time to time, but they are quite close and it’s evident that they love one another. When the younger sister is kidnapped, the story progresses with the older sister feeling perplexed and lonely. This story was so poetic, so gentle and so innocent. Mangoes play a humorous role in the storyline as well. I LOVED it (Mather’s debut novel will be published this year! – June 2018).

I highly recommend this anthology and I will be re-reading this collection again.

★★★★ (4 stars) – Great book. Highly recommend!

Purchase Pepperpot on Amazon

2018 NEW RELEASES TO ANTICIPATE!

Happy New Year, everyone!

What books are you excited to read this year? Below are 56 new African, African-American and Caribbean books that look very promising. This is just a snippet of the books 2018 has to offer!

Please click on the images to read the blurbs and/or to purchase the books.

(this post contains Amazon affiliate links)

MORE books to look out for in 2018:

Image via Nylon

Well-Read Black Girl: Finding Our Stories, Discovering Ourselves

Yes! Glory Edim, aka – Well-Read Black Girl, is working on an anthology that will feature black women writers like – Zinzi Clemons, Nicole Dennis-Benn, Marita Golden, and Tayari Jones as they highlight the first time they saw themselves represented in literature. To be published by Random House.

 


Image via Simon & Schuster

I first encountered Bahamian writer – Janice Lynn Mather’s writing in the 2014 anthology, Pepperpot: Best New Stories From The Caribbean. Her short story- ‘Mango Summer’ was such a poetic, gentle and innocent tale on sisterhood and loneliness; with the abundance of mangoes being a humorous distraction to the heartfelt tale.

I loved her writing in ‘Mango Summer’ and eagerly look forward to this debut! To be published by Simon & Schuster, June 2018.

 


Image via Reader’s Digest 

She Would Be King by Wayétu Moore

Wayétu Moore is a writer of Liberian heritage and is the founder of One Moore Book, which is a children’s book publishing company that focuses on providing culturally sensitive and educational stories for children living in regions with low literacy rates and underrepresented cultures. Her debut – She Would Be King, reimagines the dramatic story of Liberia’s early years through three characters who share an uncommon bond. I can’t wait for the book cover to be revealed soon!! To be published by Graywolf Press, September 2018.

 


Image via Anissa Photography 

On The Come Up by Angie Thomas

If you loved The Hate You Give, you’ll probably love Angie Thomas’ second novel – On The Come Up! I hope the book cover is revealed soon. To be published by Balzer + Bray, May 2018.

 


Image via Ibi Zoboi

Pride by Ibi Zoboi

Haitian writer – Ibi Zoboi’s second novel, Pride is a love story inspired by Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, set in Bushwick (Brooklyn, NY). To be published by Balzer + Bray, September 2018.

 

What new releases are you excited about? Please do share!

2017 Recap & My Top 5!

Hey everyone!

I hope the holiday season has been relaxing for you all. 2017 is almost over and it’s time for a recap of the year! I ended up reading 28 books this year. The break down of my 2017 reading experience is as follows:

Average books read per month: 2 books 

Anthologies read: 3 books

Audiobooks ‘read’: 3 books

African literature: 10 books

Caribbean literature: 4 books

African-American literature: 13 books

Others: 1 book (this is a non-African/non-Diaspora book. Written by Cheryl Strayed).

20 women writers 5 men writers


Top 5 favorite books of 2017

  1. Questions for Ada by Ijeoma Umebinyuo
  2. Our Sister Killjoy by Ama Ata Aidoo
  3. Born On A Tuesday by Elnathan John
  4. Houseboy by Ferdinand Oyono
  5. Now We Will Be Happy by Amina Gautier

These were the most insightful, affirming and enjoyable books for me this year! School/life has been quite hectic this year, so I’m behind on book reviews. Expect the remaining book reviews in 2018, but in the meantime, I HIGHLY recommend these 5 books!

Reviews for books read this year are in the Book Reviews section of the book blog.

What were your top 5 favorite books of 2017?


Favorite bookish events / images of the year:


African Book Addict! FEATURES:

It’s been both overwhelming and exciting being recognized for all the hard work that goes into creating content for this book blog. Book blogging here at African Book Addict! is purely a hobby (as I’m currently a 4th year Dental Student – its a 6 year program), so receiving recognition and praise is always affirming and such a blessing.

Below is a list of the features and recognitions African Book Addict! has gained this year:

Also, special thanks to the authors who’ve contacted me to show their appreciation for reviews of their books that have been posted on this platform and/or AFREADA.

Image via novelscript Instagram stories


2017 Reading Intentions round up:

At the beginning of the year, I set 3 reading intentions. But I don’t think I’ve successfully achieved them all…

  • My first reading intention was to READ MY OWN DAMN BOOKS. Only 9 of the books I read this year had been on my bookshelf for a while. The rest of the books I’ve enjoyed were acquired THIS year! Is it possible for a moody book lover to restrict him/herself to just the books sitting on one’s bookshelf? It’s tough y’all!

 

  • The second reading intention was to PURCHASE LESS books this year. Well… I ended up purchasing about 30 books (discounted/ used books – chill out!) over the summer and many, many more for friends & family as gifts. I might have jinxed myself by setting this goal/intention for myself!  *shrug*

 

  • Lastly, I set out to buddy-read some novels with other book bloggers/ book lovers. I successfully read Behold The Dreamers with Ifeyinwa Arinze and we had a great conversation on the book as well! I had planned to read books with other bloggers – Osondu (of Incessant Scribble), Didi (of Brown Girl Reading) and Afoma (of Afoma Umesi). Osondu and I weren’t excited about the book we set out to read, so our buddy-read was unsuccessful; Didi and I were to read a debut that a writer had sent us – but we couldn’t get passed the first 50 pages, so we quit; Afoma and I also tried to read an ARC together this month, but the book is super slow… maybe we’ll continue to read it together in the new year. Buddy-reading has been challenging! I think I’ll talk more about this in the new year.

Were you able to achieve some of your 2017 Reading Intentions? 

[Don’t beat yourself up if you weren’t able to – its definitely not that serious and you can still achieve them in 2018!]

Total books read in 2017

I’m TRULY grateful to everyone who frequents this book blog and for the great discussions (agreements, disagreements and recommendations) we have in the comments section. I always appreciate the support and love shown here, from you all. This year, I’ve enjoyed discovering new book blogs, book lovers & Bookstagram accounts (Book Instagram) and I hope to connect with more in the future! Here’s to more great years of reading ahead, for all of us. 🙂  

 

What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah

Date Read: September 29th 2017

Published: 2017

Publisher: Riverhead Books

Pages: 232

 

 

 

The Blurb

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!

Purchase What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky on Amazon

This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz

Date Read: May 25th 2017

Published: 2012

Publisher: Riverhead Books

Pages: 217

 

The Blurb

From the award-winning author, a stunning collection that celebrates the haunting, impossible power of love.

On a beach in the Dominican Republic, a doomed relationship flounders. In a New Jersey laundry room, a woman does her lover’s washing and thinks about his wife. In Boston, a man buys his love child, his only son, a first baseball bat and glove. At the heart of these stories is the irrepressible, irresistible Yunior, a young hardhead whose longing for love is equaled only by his recklessness–and by the extraordinary women he loves and loses.

In prose that is endlessly energetic, inventive, tender, and funny, these stories lay bare the infinite longing and inevitable weakness of the human heart. They remind us that passion always triumphs over experience, and that “the half-life of love is forever.”

 

Review – ★★★ (3 stars)

This Is How You Lose Her is a short story collection with brilliant writing and absorbing storytelling, but I was not a fan of the stories. In this collection, readers get a glimpse into the life of Yunior and his family who are originally from the Dominican Republic, residing in New Jersey.

I hated ALL the characters in this collection (Yunior’s brother – Rafa, really struck me though. I wanted to know more about his cancer and I wished readers got a closer look into how Yunior reacted to his brother’s fate). The characters in this collection can easily make you lose faith in humanity by their shitty actions and intentions (especially towards women). This collection tackles issues of immigration, infidelity, misogyny, love, grief, racism & colorism within the Dominican / Dominican-American community, family, brotherhood, illness, (hyper)masculinity and disappointment.

I usually love when a writer’s skill allows me to have strong feelings towards the characters, but the misogyny in this book was too strong for me. On Goodreads, other readers had issues with Díaz’s use of the word ‘nigga’ and the superfluous vulgarity of this collection. I had no issues with Díaz’s colorful choice of words – the vulgarity in the dialogue between the characters actually gave this collection so much life! But I wonder how the average Dominican feels reading this book – how much of the portrayal of men from the Dominican Republic is exaggerated?

Another thing that bugged me was the arrangement of the stories in this collection. I felt the stories were arranged haphazardly –  for example, the story entitled ‘Invierno’, which explains how Yunior and his family migrated to New Jersey and coped through winter as new immigrants from the Dominican Republic, should have been the first story and the rest of the stories should have followed chronologically – in my opinion.

Junot Díaz is no doubt a brilliant writer, but this collection was a stressful read for me. I will read his debut collection – Drown, just to experience more of Yunior; as well as The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao at some point.

★★★ (3 stars) – Good book. I recommend it, I guess.

Purchase This Is How You Lose Her on Amazon