Lesley Nneka Arimah’s debut collection of short stories is a revelation. I first listened to the audiobook — beautifully narrated by Adjoa Andoh — a year ago, and I’ve just re-listened to it. The stories take place in Nigeria, in the U.S., in both. If I had to pick a theme, I’d pick loss, and Arimah explores every cave and crevice extending from that starting point.
Here are a few lines that struck me:
- The U.S., a “country that rewards her brand of boldness, in her black of body, with an incredulous fascination that makes her put it away” (from the story “Light”).
- A father and his daughter: “He does not yet wonder where she gets this, this streak of fire. He only knows that it keeps the wolves of the world at bay and he must never let it die out” (in “Light”).
- “Joy had become a finite meal she begrudged seeing anyone but herself consume” (in “Glory”).
- Turning 50, from the perspective of a child: “Mrs. Ajayi was very old, creeping on that age when life begins to lose all meaning, fifty, I think” (in “Redemption”).
Here is the effusive review that I wrote when I first listened to the book:
A breathtaking collection of stories. The prose is beautiful; it made other books I read or listened to at the same time seem pedestrian. Some of the stories are realistic, others incorporate magical realism. Some take place in Nigeria, others in the U.S., other in both. I’d read a novel by Arimah on any of these stories. One woman observes about her boyfriend: “He didn’t seem to mind how joy had become a finite meal she begrudged seeing anyone but herself consume.” Or a father comments on his daughter: “He should chastise the girl, he knows that, but she is his brightest ember and he would not have her dimmed.” As Marina Warner wrote in the New York Times, “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.”
At the time of this writing, the ebook on Kindle is available for US$1.99, which is wildly high literary value-for-money.
This was book #3 in my effort to read a book by an author from every African country.