What it Means When A Man Falls From the Sky

Literary Fiction / Short Stories

by Lesley Nneka Arimah
April 2017 – Riverhead

A dazzlingly accomplished debut collection explores the ties that bind parents and children, husbands and wives, lovers and friends to one another and to the places they call home.

In “Who Will Greet You at Home,” a National Magazine Award finalist for The New Yorker, A woman desperate for a child weaves one out of hair, with unsettling results. In “Wild,” a disastrous night out shifts a teenager and her Nigerian cousin onto uneasy common ground. In “The Future Looks Good,” three generations of women are haunted by the ghosts of war, while in “Light,” a father struggles to protect and empower the daughter he loves. And in the title story, in a world ravaged by flood and riven by class, experts have discovered how to “fix the equation of a person” – with rippling, unforeseen repercussions.

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.

Lesley Nneka Arimah received her MFA at Minnesota State University. Stories from this collection have been published, or are forthcoming, in The New YorkerHarper’sGrantaCatapultPANK Magazine, and Five Points. She was named the winner of the 2015 Commonwealth Short Story Prize – Africa.


A National Book Foundation “5 Under 35” Honoree
Finalist of the 2017 Kirkus Prize

“A witty, oblique and mischievous storyteller, Arimah can compress a family history into a few pages and invent utopian parables, magical tales and nightmare scenarios while moving deftly between comic distancing and insightful psychological realism. Although this is her first book, her originality and narrative verve have already won her publication in The New Yorker, as well as many awards…Arimah demonstrated a deft wit and an ability to surprise herself – and her reader – with the depth and delicacy of her feelings…Arimah knows how to withhold information, making the reader work like an archaeologist on a tray of potsherds to assemble the pieces; but the reciprocity she asks from us only adds to our pleasure…Arimah’s magic realism owed something to Ben Okri’s use of spirit beliefs, while her science fiction parables, with their ecological and feminist concerns, recall those of Margaret Atwood. But it would be wrong not to hail Arimah’s exhilarating originality: She is conducting adventures in narrative on her own terms, keeping her streak of light, that bright ember, burning fiercely, undimmed.” —New York Times Book Review

“Powerful and incisive…Arimah gracefully inserts moments of levity into each tale and creates complex characters who are easy to both admire and despise…this collection electrifies.” —Publishers Weekly, STARRED review

“Arimah has skill in abundance: the stories here are solid and impeccably crafted and strike at the heart of the most complicated of human relationships. Against a backdrop of grief for dead parents or angst over a lover, Arimah uses Nigeria as her muse…Arimah confidently tests out all the tools in her kit while also managing to create a wholly cohesive and original collection. [This book] heralds a new voice with certain staying power.” —Kirkus Reviews, STARRED review

“A slender yet mighty short story collection that delivers one head-snapping wallop after another. Arimah’s potently concentrated portrayals of young women who can’t stop themselves from doing the wrong thing, especially by refusing to adhere to traditional Nigerian expectations for females to be obedient and self-sacrificing, possess tremendous psychological and social depth and resonance…she writes with subtlety and poignancy about the struggles of love and hope between daughters and mothers and fathers, including relationships complicated by the legacy of the Biafran War, class divides, and transatlantic separations…Arimah’s emotional and cultural precision and authenticity undergird her most imaginative leaps. She flirts with horror fiction, presents a ghost story, and creates an arresting form of magic realism in sync with that of Shirley Jackson, George Saunders, and Colson Whitehead…Arimah’s stories of loss, grief, shame, fury, and love are stingingly fresh and complexly affecting.” —Booklist, STARRED review

“Lesley Nneka Arimah’s debut short-story collection, What It Means When A Man Falls From The Sky, is an impressive showcase of her talent…Arimah’s voice is vibrant and fresh, her topics equally timely and timeless…This is a slim, rare volume that left me compelled to press it into the hands of friends, saying, “You must read this.” But resist the urge to make your way through its pages at a rapid clip. Each story here benefits from reflection before you tackle the next.” —Washington Post

“In What It Means When a Man Falls From the Sky, her new book, dark turns come in many forms, from the fantastic to the grimly realistic…A spirit of willful perseverance suffuses Arimah’s collection, too, and pulls it back from the brink of total bleakness. Above all, her writing conveys respect for the people who claw their way through relentlessly difficult lives…These tales don’t celebrate virtue, but they pay tribute to tenacity.” —The Atlantic

“[A] remarkable debut collection…Of all of Arimah’s considerable skills, this might be her greatest: She crafts stories that reward rereading, not because they’re unclear or confusing, but because it’s so tempting to revisit each exquisite sentence, each uniquely beautiful description…Arimah [has a] gift for sly humor that doesn’t cheapen the genuine emotions of her characters…Arimah’s collection somehow manages to be both cohesive and varied at the same time. None of the stories resemble one another, exactly, but they manage to form a book united not only by theme and by setting (the stories mostly take place in Nigeria and the U.S.), but by Arimah’s electrifying, defiantly original writing. It’s a truly wonderful debut by a young author who seems certain to have a very bright literary future ahead of her.” —NPR