In ‘What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky’, Nneka Arimah takes a future dystopian world ravaged by climate change as given. Africa is now the destination of refugees from a drowned Europe, to this she adds her concept of the Formula, a discovery allowing mathematicians to unburden humans of grief and potentially free them from the forces of gravity. That is, until a man falls from the sky and our broken protagonist, talented mathematician Nneoma, becomes aware of the limits of human invention and intervention, as well as her own complicity.
Published in What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky, Tinder Press, 2018
This tender and earnest story with a family of three at its core – a mother studying in America, the father and daughter left behind – sets up its premise in the first, forceful line: “When Enebeli Okwara sent his girl out in the world, he did not know what the world did to daughters.” Arimah expertly navigates time and a young woman’s adolescence to talk about the love a father has for his daughter, a disintegrating marriage, how distance and the difference between where we live and where we want to live can change who we are and how we relate to each other.
First published online by Granta in April 2015 and available to read here Collected in What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky, Riverhead Books, 2017
Again, another great SF-ish collection. I love how this particular story just plunges you in and leaves you to make sense of things. I’ll leave you with the first two sentences:
The yarn baby lasted a good month, emitting dry, cotton-soft gurgles and pooping little balls of lint, before Ogechi snagged its thigh on a nail and it unraveled as she continued walking, mistaking the little huffs for the beginnings of hunger, not the cries of an infant being undone. By the time she noticed, it was too late, the leg a tangle of fiber, and she pulled the rest of the way to end it, rather than have the infant grow up maimed.
First published in The New Yorker, October 2015 and available to read here. What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky, Penguin Random House, 2017
Ever since I first read—and loved—this story, I have googled it at random moments just so I can be struck by the first line: The yarn baby lasted a good month, emitting dry, cotton-soft gurgles and pooping little balls of lint, before Ogechi snagged its thigh on a nail and it unravelled as she continued walking, mistaking its little huffs for the beginnings of hunger, not the cries of an infant being undone.What an opening, and what a world.
Nneka Arimah’s assurance with fantasy is frankly just delightful to witness, and part of that delight is at the sheer grace and ambition of the story in its centering of radical reproductive futures, storytelling-as-prophecy, and hair. Hair! I continue to marvel at the compactness and elegance of the story.
First published in The New Yorker, October 26, 2015. Collected in What it Means When a Man Falls From the Sky, Tinder Press, 2017. Read it online here
Motherhood, whether tender or terrible, is touched upon often in Lesley Nneka Arimah’s spellbinding collection. Although What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky is all killer, no filler, I’ve chosen ‘Who Will Greet You at Home’ as my stand-out story. In a matriarchal society, young women must craft their children from found materials, like yarn, raffia or clay, in the hope that their mothers will breathe life into their handmade effigies. Before that can happen, they must carry these dolls like babes in arms and keep them safe for a full year before there’s any hope of them coming to life. The narrator, Ogechi, struggles with the task of self-made motherhood, but after multiple false-starts she finds success with a somewhat unusual material. It’s a story about the pressure on women to be mothers, and to be perfect mothers at that, with perfect children, as well as covering themes of fertility and infant mortality.
First published in The New Yorker, October 2015, and collected in What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky, Tinder Press 2018