BookBrowse Reviews What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky


by Lesley Nneka Arimah

What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah X
What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Apr 2017, 240 pages
    Apr 2018, 240 pages


  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte
Buy This Book

About this Book



Evocative, playful, subversive, and incredibly human, What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky heralds the arrival of a prodigious talent with a remarkable career ahead of her.

Even if it might be unfair to the enormously talented Lesley Nneka Arimah to refer to another immensely gifted short story writer when reviewing her work, I couldn't help myself - because it was Jhumpa Lahiri that I was reminded of after reading the absolutely spellbinding first story, "The Future Looks Good," in Arimah's debut.

Just like Lahiri, Arimah knows how to pack a jaw-dropping punch in the very last sentence of a story. There are brilliantly placed nuggets throughout this tale about a young Nigerian woman, Ezinma, who carries the weight of generations past on her shoulders, and whose life narrative is Exhibit A in how difficult it is for many of us, especially the poor, to break free from the circumstances and class into which we are born.

This central theme, of place and circumstance molding our lives, runs deep through the collection, its effect particularly noticeable on many of Arimah's young women protagonists. In "War Stories," for example, a schoolgirl's successful confrontation of the reigning Queen Bee feels like a major victory, especially since there are dark tragedies at home to confront: the death of her sibling, and their father's consequent depression. Tragedy again threatens to shape the choices that a young mother, Buchi, must face in "Buchi's Girls" when she is forced to live as a second-class citizen with her sister and her husband in Nigeria, and has to figure out if giving up her older daughter for adoption into a more comfortable family is the only way out of eternal misery. It's a delicately crafted story tracing the gradual and touching evolution of Buchi's situation.

Although the primary veins flowing through this collection touch on grief and tragedy, the volume as a whole doesn't feel like a Debbie Downer because Arimah knows just when to pull back before a story starts to wallow in its own excesses. Even in Buchi's case, the final resolution is left to the reader, leaving room for a small sliver of hope. Besides, there's plenty of wry humor in the stories, especially when Arimah explores Nigerian expats in the United States navigating their relationships with both their home country and newly arrived Nigerians.

In "Glory," one of my favorite stories, a young woman starts off with a rather auspicious name, Glorybetogod Ngozi Akunyili, but, as Arimah writes with a touch of tongue-in-cheek humor, Glory's parents could never have seen that such a christening would not comply with Facebook's "real name" policy. Nor could her parents have predicted that their talented daughter would one day come to be "nearing thirty, chronically single, and working at a call center in downtown Minneapolis," eating a three-for-a-dollar burrito bought at a local discount grocery store for lunch practically every day. Glory imagines her curated Facebook life, one where her cousin back in Port Harcourt, Nigeria would like her post and "another friend would confess her envy, and others still would say how (OMG!) she was sooo lucky. And for a moment," Arimah writes, "she would live the sort of life her parents had imagined for her those many, many years ago." Keeping the weight of her parents' expectations squarely in mind, when opportunity presents itself in the form of Thomas, a Nigerian MBA student who tempts her at the call center, Glory carefully weighs her choices and calibrates her decisions accordingly. The story is a masterclass in how to reveal a layered look at the many compromises we make that erode our dreams every day.

The collection has a couple of Nigerian folk tales thrown in which further balance the overall mood of the book. In the titular story, Nneoma, a mathematician, has a special gift for absorbing people's grief. When a man who has a similar talent commits suicide (he falls to his death from the sky as the story's title suggests), Nneoma realizes that her special abilities can also be a burden.

Each story in Arimah's nuanced collection is tinged with the complexities of the human experience. The writer Junot Diaz once said that writing a short story was especially challenging because "you spend 16 years chefing in the kitchen, and all that's left is an amuse-bouche." But if the amuse-bouche is as glorious as Arimah's debut, all is forgiven. The result here is most definitely worth the labor.

Reviewed by Poornima Apte

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in May 2017, and has been updated for the April 2018 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  The Biafra-Britain Connection

Join BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten.

Find out more

Today's Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: All That She Carried
    All That She Carried
    by Tiya Miles
    For Rose of Charleston, South Carolina, it was an ordinary day until it wasn't. When it turned out ...
  • Book Jacket
    by Charlotte McConaghy
    Migrations, Australian author Charlotte McConaghy's literary fiction debut, earned a notably high ...
  • Book Jacket: The Forest of Vanishing Stars
    The Forest of Vanishing Stars
    by Kristin Harmel
    Kristin Harmel's historical novel The Forest of Vanishing Stars was very well-received by our First ...
  • Book Jacket: African Europeans
    African Europeans
    by Olivette Otele
    The nexus of Africans and Europeans is not a recent historical development. Rather, the peoples of ...

Book Club Discussion
Book Jacket
All the Little Hopes
by Leah Weiss
A Southern story of friendship forged by books and bees, in the murky shadows of World War II.

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    The Sunset Route
    by Carrot Quinn

    A beautiful memoir about forgiveness, self-discovery, and the redemptive power of nature.

Win This Book!
Win The Debt Trap

The Debt Trap
by Josh Mitchell

"A meticulous, eye-opening history of the US student debt crisis."
—Publishers Weekly



Solve this clue:

A T I A Teapot

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.