What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky

The opening story of What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky, Lesley Nneka Arimah's debut collection of short fiction, sets the tone for the revelatory experience that awaits readers. "The Future Looks Good" is chilling; childhood memories torment the younger of two Nigerian sisters, while the older is married to an abusive husband. Also packed into its eight short pages are a father who hot-wired cars in his youth and the 1967-1970 Biafran war. Arimah's works, which include speculative fiction and African mythology, demonstrate her gift for telling detail and odd twists, and illustrates the lasting influence of Nigerian politics on the characters, even those who have spent most of their lives in the United States.

A couple of the stories don't quite gel, but the highlights are jewels--among them is "Windfalls," in which a 15-year-old girl's widowed mother forces her to fake falls in grocery stores so that they can collect monetary settlements. "Who Will Greet You at Home" is a futuristic depiction of a society in which "motherless girls" form babies out of tough materials, such as raffia, and hope that they will be blessed into life. In the title story, the protagonist, one of 2,400 people called Mathematicians in the mid-21st century, uses a special formula to remove negative emotions from paying clients, yet the accuracy is questioned when a man plummets to his death. This astonishing collection is an impressive debut. --Michael Magras, freelance book reviewer

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