What’s it all about?:
A stunning collection of short stories from Caine-Prize shortlisted and Commonwealth Writer’s Prize winner Lesley Nneka Arimah, WHAT IT MEANS WHEN A MAN FALLS FROM THE SKY is a debut with all the imagination of Helen Oyeyemi’s The Icarus Girl and the toughness of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels.
‘When Enebeli Okwara sent his girl out in the world, he did not know what the world did to daughters’. The daughters, wives and mothers in Lesley Nneka Arimah’s remarkable debut collection find themselves in extraordinary situations: a woman whose mother’s ghost appears to have stepped out of a family snapshot, another who, exhausted by childlessness, resorts to fashioning a charmed infant out of human hair, a ‘grief worker’ with a miraculous ability to remove emotional pain – at a price. What unites them is the toughness of the world they inhabit, a world where the future is uncertain, opportunities are scant, and fortunes change quicker than the flick of a switch. Characterised by their vividness, immediacy and the author’s seemingly endless ability to conjure worlds at once familiar and unsettlingly different, this collection showcases the work of an extraordinarily talented writer at the start of a brilliant career.
What did I think?:
First of all, thank you so much to the wonderful Tinder Press for approving my request to read this absorbing and captivating short story collection on NetGalley, it has within it some of the best short stories I’ve read this year. I had seen the buzz about this book on Twitter, loved the sound of it and although I could have put it as the next book to read in my Short Stories Challenge, I honestly couldn’t wait that long to read it. As it is, I devoured the entire twelve stories within twenty-four hours and am already considering reading them again shortly, that’s how much of an impact they had on me.
I’m not going to talk about all of the stories in this collection, merely the ones that had the desired effect but, to be honest, I’m really going to have to whittle them down even further as this collection is so fantastic that there was only one tale that I didn’t believe was as fantastic as the rest and as someone who has had quite a lot of experience with short stories now, that is a rare thing indeed! The first story, The Future Looks Good (described more than adequately in the synopsis) hit me like a ton of bricks. From the very first line: “Ezinma fumbles the keys against the lock and doesn’t see what came behind her:,” to the startling, literally jaw-dropping ending, I knew I had fallen head over heels in love with this author, her writing and this collection. It takes quite a lot to make me gasp out loud when I’m reading and the reaction I had to this first story even had my boyfriend slightly worried!
Right away, I knew I was reading something special. However, now the bar was set extraordinarily high for the rest of the book and I always feel slightly nervous when this kind of thing happens, rare though it is. The rest of the stories didn’t have exactly the same effect I have to say, but that does not mean they were in any way inferior, just clever and more subtle. Windfalls is about a mother who deliberately places her daughter in harm’s way, hoping that she gets injured so that she can sue and claim money is one of the darkest, most warped pieces of fiction I’ve ever read but it was utterly compelling, even as I felt sickened by this so-called “mother.”
Then there is Who Will Greet You At Home, a fantastical story about a woman who makes babies out of a range of materials for “Mama” to breathe life into them in exchange for some of her emotions, namely joy. Making babies like this is a regular practice for girls in this world but they are advised never to make a baby out of human hair. So can you then guess what our protagonist does? Say no more. Then there is the emotional Second Chances, where we follow a young woman struggling with the grief for her dead mother, especially when her mother’s ghost makes a return to the house as if nothing had ever happened. The only story in this collection that I didn’t connect with is What Is A Volcano which reads almost like a fairy-tale (so you’d think I would love it, right?) about a war between the God of Ants and the Goddess of Rivers. As with the others, it was beautifully written with such stunning imagery but for some reason I didn’t gel with it as much as I did with the other eleven tales in this book.
One of the things that I adore so much about this collection is that these stories cross the boundaries between a variety of genres. We have family drama – including relationships between parents and children and the heart-break that can follow estrangement, dystopia and the imaginings of a future world where mathematicians can cure grief, magical realism where childlessness is solved by making a baby out of whatever materials you can find around the house and finally, the historical past of a country. Each of our protagonists is engaging and interesting and you really do want to learn about their lives, even if by reading it stirs up such a hornets nest of emotions that it makes you quite dizzy (yet strangely hungry for more) which was certainly the case here. I also loved that the stories were either set in Nigeria (past, present or future) or in America about the Nigerian immigrant experience which, personally speaking, made each tale so much more fascinating.
As I’ve written this review, I’ve actually changed my rating on Goodreads. I originally awarded it four (more like four and a half) purely because of the story I didn’t quite get on with. However, just writing this review has made me realise that I need to give this collection five stars – indeed, I’d give it six if I could. Lesley Nneka Arimah is such a talented and exhilirating new writer that I’m almost bursting with desperation for her to write something else just so I can indulge myself in her writing for the first time once more.
Would I recommend it?:
But of course!
Star rating (out of 5):