What It Means When A Man Falls From the Sky by Lesley Anneka Arimah

What-it-means-when-a-man-falls-from-the-skyWhat It Means When A Man Falls From the Sky is a collection of stories focusing primarily on the experiences of Nigerians and Nigerian immigrants. It’s a book about mothers and daughters, fathers and daughters, and the complicated relationships that exist between home and homeland.

While I enjoyed most of these stories, the book as a whole fell flat for me. Perhaps this is because I hold story collections to a high standard, and so often, they fall short. This book especially was full of stories that left me asking, “what?” They felt rushed and incomplete, sometimes ending right at the moment when I was starting to sink into them.

The stories were all well-written and imaginative. Some were realistic fiction, others had magical elements, and one took place in a straight-up dystopian future. While I enjoyed the range and playfulness of the collection, the mix of stories left me feeling a bit lost. The book didn’t quite hold together as something bigger than each individual story, and that, for me, is the mark of a great collection.

I generally found the stories with magical elements the strongest. In the title story, “What It Means When A Man Falls From the Sky”, mathematicians have discovered a formula that allows them to extract people’s grief. It’s a fascinating character study that explores what happens to a person who carries the grief of others in her body. In another, a woman is confronted with the ghost of her mother, who appears suddenly years after her death.

One story in particular, “Who Will Greet You At Home?” absolutely floored me. In this story, women make babies out of various materials–straw, mud, porcelain, yarn. It’s a stunning mediation on what makes us, who makes us, what we pass on and what we keep, and the pieces of our parents we carry into adulthood. The overall collection was a three star read for me, but it’s worth reading for this story alone, which is now on my list of all-time favorite short stories.

I listend to this one on audio. It’s narrated by Adjoa Andoh, whose narration I found somewhat inconsistent. It was stellar for some stories; for others, I found it distracting. In one story, staring a teenage girl, the narration sounded to me so much like an old woman that I just couldn’t mesh the voice I was hearing with the character. It detracted from the telling, rather than adding to it. If you decide to read this book, I recommend it in print.


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