Lesley Nneka Arimah

What it Means When a Man Falls from the Sky is a stunning collection of twelve short stories by Lesley Nneka Arimah.

Each story is a unique exploration of how people relate to one another. The pervading atmosphere throughout is one of palpable grief, loss, loneliness, and tragedy. The stories are fragmentary in nature. Arimah thrusts the reader in the middle of an event, sometimes going backward in time to explain a situation, and sometimes not. A few of the stories incorporate magical realism and folklore, and some are open-ended, leaving the reader to speculate on how the story will end.

The female protagonists are predominantly misfits, trying to find a place for themselves in the world. The stories consist of snapshots of family life in Nigeria or of Nigerian expatriates living in America. Most are tinged with sadness, the characters plagued with poverty and loneliness. A young girl is murdered by her sister’s abuser in a case of mistaken identity; a young woman makes babies out of yarn and human hair in the hope of bringing a baby to life to assuage her loneliness; a widow tolerates humiliation from her sister’s affluent family because she needs to provide a home for her daughters; a mother teaches her daughter to fall in public places to receive settlements from lawsuits or from the threat of lawsuits; a father watches his daughter’s light diminish after she joins her mother in America.

With the exception of “What is a Volcano?” the stories are about people—their relationships; their need for connection; their conflicts and struggles; how they cope with trauma and lost; the bonds they build and the bonds they sever. The stories, told with tenderness, sensitivity and compassion, poignantly touch on what it means to be human. They capture the quiet moments in people’s lives, the moments they share with one another and the moments that estrange them from each other.

Lesley Nneka Arimah’s packs a powerful punch in her debut collection of stories. She is a gifted storyteller with a keen eye for the suffering that can permeate lives.

The collection is highly recommended.

AuthorTamara Agha-Jaffar