Book Review: What It Means When A Man Falls From The Sky By Lesley Nneka Arimah


The debut collection by Lesley Nneka Arimah will completely throw you off balance. This page-turner is a short-story collection, containing narratives with African female protagonists who explore life through the various situations they’re put in through insight, pessimism and humour. The collection has twelve stories in total.

The writing of this collection is oblique and mischievous in the exploration of certain themes; most of which aren’t explored in many texts of African literature.

In the title story, for example, gifted children have several powers that have been bestowed upon them after ‘The Elimination’. There has been a flood and Europe and the United States have been washed away. The remnant of the flood are now struggling to survive in the continent that wasn’t washed away and the main character, Nneoma, has to come to a higher understanding of love, purpose and the human nature.

In stories such as ‘Light’ and ‘Wind’, Arimah explores the complexities of relationships, particularly between young women and girls and their parents. Societal norms play a great role in the upbringing of African girls and it is mostly the role of the mother to ‘instil’ these ‘values’. Arimah illustrates these issues with a poignant yet realistic approach that not only resonates with the reader but that also stays true to her own narrative and style.

‘Who will greet you at home?’ explores the issues of motherhood in the African context. Women have to design their own babies and then take them to a sorceress who then determines if they are worthy of life. The story contemplates the anxiety that is childlessness, child-bearing and the societal pressures that are placed on African women to become parents; parents to exceptional children.

Arimah’s stories also bear a great command in language.

In the final story, she writes, “Girls with fire in their bellies will be forced to drink from a well of correction till the flames die out.”

In ‘What Is a Volcano?’ she expresses, “No one asked Ant what he thought of River, but someone should have known that you do not take small things from small men.”

In ‘The Future Looks Good’, she says, “Her grandmother, overworked to the bone by the women whose houses she dusted, whose laundry she washed, whose children’s asses she scrubbed clean; overworked by the bones of a husband who wanted many sons and the men she entertained to give them to him, sees her son to his thirteenth year with the per function of a nurse and dies in her bed with a long, weary sigh.”

Her rich imagination, individuality and strong characterization build this collection into one of the greatest of our time.

Arimah is United States citizen who was born in Britain of Nigerian parents and raised in Nigeria. The book is also set around these areas and one can tell that her own experiences have been weaved into the story-telling.

Pick up this book if you haven’t read any short story collections and are interested in literature contributed by African writers.

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