“What It Means When a Man falls from the Sky” is Lesley Nneka’s debut collection of short stories and I got a copy of this book on loan to enable me do this review. It’s taken me long enough to do this so I better make it worth your time. Let me know when you’re done reading this.

What I find refreshing about reading short story collections is that you don’t have to read it chronologically. How you start is often dictated by where curiosity leads you. In my case I was led to start with “Light.”

As with most stories in this collection, a common thread that ran through the stories is family relationships. In “Light”, Lesley tells the story of Enebeli Okwara who had to raise his daughter without her mother who was working in far-away US. Buki his daughter takes to antics that seem like cries for attention but he is not equipped to handle these situations and his wife’s badgering about his methods doesn’t help one bit.

“Enebeli and the girl have survived much in her absence including a stampede at the market that separated them” (pg. 55)

The all too obvious message is the impact of distance on family relationships but I think there is a layer that speaks to father’s love: In the same breath as you have an anxiety, pang, you feel your spirit rise with joy and hope, even pride, in raising a girl child. Synonymous to the imagery of distance is “transience” used as a characteristic of light in this story. Especially where we find in the end, Enebeli’s daughter who had been with him from the beginning of this telling  soon joins her mother in the US and he finds himself on the other side of the table (or the laptop screen, as it were).

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I was most engaged by the story, “Buchi’s Daughters.” Why? Like the other stories, it too is about filial love. However, this is about Buchi who, recently widowed, is accommodated by her sister and brother-in-law, for a price. She must do the chores in the house and keep her children restrained from constituting a nuisance.

The title story “What It Means When a Man falls from the Sky” is set in a geo-apocalyptic world following the Elimination, a disastrous turn of volcanoes, earthquakes and a flood that turns most parts of North America, Europe and Russia into a Water Grave driving her people to take refuge in Biafra. We follow Nneoma, one of the “twenty-four hundred mathematicians…making their living calculating and subtracting emotions, drawing them from living bodies like poison from a wound.” She must deal with the complications and ethics of her profession.

Is Nietzsche in this Story?

In this short story, Nneka plays with interesting ideas around what it would be like if you could sum up human suffering in quantifiable terms. What are the implications of this possibility? A student challenged Nneoma in the story, asking a question key to our understanding of this proposition:

“…my dad says that what you people do is wrong, that you shouldn’t be stopping a person from feeling natural hardships. That’s what it means to be human.”

The Author here perhaps explores Nietzsche’s thoughts on pain as the true test of our worth as humans.

I enjoyed the free-flowing dynamism between Nneoma and her assistance Kioni and the twist at the end of this story was satisfying, even with all the questions this body of work leaves you with.

The Author here perhaps explores Nietzsche’s thoughts on pain as the true test of our worth as humans.


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