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.
Author: Lesley Nneka Arimah
“What would happen if you couldn’t forget, if every emotion from every person whose grief you’d eaten came back up? It could happen if something went wrong with the formula millions and millions of permutations down the line. A thousand falling men landing on you.”
I first read the title short story from this collection (“What It Means When a Man Falls From the Sky”) through The Season of Stories, an email subscription that sends you part of a short story every day (highly recommend). I was immediately blown away, and I forwarded it to all my lit friends so I’d have someone to talk to about it.
I eagerly purchased the collection, hungry for more from Arimah. She’s a true master storyteller. Every story gripped me and made me question something.
I recently watched a Ted Talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie where she talked about Americans’ perceptions of Africans as “a single story.” She says:
“My American roommate was shocked by me. She asked where I had learned to speak English so well, and was confused when I said that Nigeria happened to have English as its official language. She asked if she could listen to what she called my ‘tribal music,’ and was consequently very disappointed when I produced my tape of Mariah Carey.
…If I had not grown up in Nigeria, and if all I knew about Africa were from popular images, I too would think that Africa was a place of beautiful landscapes, beautiful animals, and incomprehensible people, fighting senseless wars, dying of poverty and AIDS, unable to speak for themselves and waiting to be saved by a kind, white foreigner.
…So that is how to create a single story, show a people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become.”
And so my biggest appreciation for What It Means When a Man Falls From the Sky is that it gave me more stories. Great, deep, rich, complex, engaging stories filled with culture and politics and things that people should hear about.
The title short story remains my favorite. But you should definitely read them all.