Nigeria serves as a prism refracting the myriad experiences of both former and current inhabitants.
In two different stories in Arimah’s debut collection, characters have the supernatural ability to drain emotions from other people, for good or for ill. In “Who Will Greet You at Home,” a Nigerian woman participates in a tradition of making children out of inanimate materials and having them blessed by older women in hopes that they will become real. But these blessings come at a price—in her case, "Mama" blesses the child in exchange for the protagonist's own joy, “siphoned a bit, just a dab…a little bit of her life for her child’s life.” In the title story, figures known as Mathematicians are able to use precise algorithms and equations to relieve negative emotions from customers who can afford it. This power over feelings is as good a metaphor as any for storytelling. And 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. The characters exist in relation to a Nigeria of the past—the ghost of the Nigerian civil war, especially, looms over many of the stories—as well as present-day Nigeria, either as citizens or expats. Arimah even imagines a future Nigeria in which it has become the “Biafra-Britannia Alliance” in a massive geopolitical shift resulting from devastating climate change. This speculative turn joins everything from fabulism to folk tale as Arimah confidently tests out all the tools in her kit while also managing to create a wholly cohesive and original collection.
Heralds a new voice with certain staying power.