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

What a wonder - this book. I read through its stories like I entered different worlds, ones in which there is a mathematical equation to remove guilt from a body, or where babies are first hair, or mud or porcelain before they become real. That is the power of each story from What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah. She spins an entirely new dimension into your imagination in so few words, so that when you look up from the pages you find yourself lost in the reality of your four walls.

I don't remember how this book came to my attention, but I do know that, when it did, it lodged in my mind for months before I finally got my hands on it. Whatever the drive, it was worth it. I will read it again and again. Admittedly, most of the stories do have a dark edge, but they are told in such a way that you feel some sense of love, hope or redemption, as the last story is called, at the end. 

The central characters are always women. Younger sisters, or daughters to wounded fathers or desperate mothers, or single mothers who cannot protect the innocence of their offspring, or unlucky daughters, or river daughters. If we forget that the world is based around the women we raise up, this book is a reminder. And, sometimes covertly, sometimes not, this book addresses the violence that these women face, whether it be from families separated, or destitution, or expectations (to be a mother, to be a wife, to be tamed). 

When Enebeli Okwara sent his girl out in the world, he did not know what the world did to daughters. He did not know how quickly it would wick the dew off her, how she would be returned to him hollowed out, relieved of her better parts.
— Lesley Nneka Arimah, What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky

My favorite stories were the ones that took you to the world of the gods, where there is a god of Ants and the River goddess, or that took you to the Africa of the late 21st century, where the U.S. and Europe were already underwater and Africa had a new name, hosting new war, strive, sadness and guilt written into a formula for humanity. Or where women were asked to first make their babies, of yarn or paper, and tend to them as they were for a year before they became human. These stories whispered secrets in your ear as you turned their pages, beckoning you to know more after reading than you knew before.

‘Some Mathematicians remove pain, some of us deal in negative emotions, but we all fix the equation of a person.’
— Lesley Nneka Arimah, What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky

There have been a handful of books this year that I have recommended repetitively to friends and colleagues. This will be one of those books. But it will also be a book that I guide myself back to again and again, because it is true storytelling, because it is art, because the words creep past your eyes into your bloodstream until you feel their meaning.

What a wonder - this book.