SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
One of the most anticipated books of the year is out - "What It Means When A Man Falls From The Sky." It's the first book of short stories from Lesley Nneka Arimah who's won an African Commonwealth prize among many others. It's a book that ranges from the story of a child that a mother weaves from hair to a father's anxiety for the daughter he sends out into the world and an upturned world that's ravaged by natural disasters that can have everlasting results. Lesley Nneka Arimah joins us from Bagamoyo, Tanzania. Thanks so much for being with us.
LESLEY NNEKA ARIMAH: Thank you for having me.
SIMON: Let's begin with this title story, "What It Means When A Man Falls From The Sky." This is a world, in many ways, that you've turned upside down in just a few short pages. Tell us about this world.
ARIMAH: Yes. You know, I was interested in sort of imagining what an alternate future would look like if climate change is taken to its ultimate conclusion. And so within this world, the continents that are consumed by the rising floodwaters are Europe and America. And so westerners now become refugees coming to South America to Africa to Australia. And I said I wanted to play with the idea of the reversal of fortunes in that way.
SIMON: And also out of your imagination, the story "Who Will Greet You At Home." That was a National Magazine Award finalist when you wrote it for The New Yorker. This begins with a woman who wants a child and weaves one out of hair. What is this world you reveal?
ARIMAH: So I like speculative stories - you know, magical realism, fantasy, science fiction, what have you - because we can take sort of things that we take for granted as rules to follow in our world. And, suddenly, when you place them in this, you know, magical world, it takes on different connotations. And so in this case, it was the expectation that every woman should and desires to have a child that's as perfect as she can make it. And so, you know, once you take that natural desire that we have in our world and put this in this magical world, it's little sinister. It's a little more complicated. It's a little more interesting.
SIMON: You, I gather, were born in the United Kingdom?
ARIMAH: Yes. I was. And, you know, we were there for maybe a few months and then relocated back to Nigeria.
SIMON: And at some point, you came to the United States?
ARIMAH: When I was 13, yes. My father was transferred here for work, and we moved to Louisiana of all places (laughter), which is not a place that's not known for its large Nigerian population. But I think - you know, what I love about Louisiana, which I did not love at that point, was how it's a pretty unique culture. I think it's the most distinct part of United States.
SIMON: I wonder if that experience sort of encouraged you to create these other worlds you write about?
ARIMAH: Well, you know, I have always sought comfort in books. And so, you know, in the confusion of being a teenager, you know, thrust into this unfamiliar world, you know, books became my refuge. And so I didn't think so at the time, but it was inevitable that I would end up seeking to become a writer.
SIMON: Why do you think so many people are interested in post-apocalyptic worlds at this point?
ARIMAH: The idea of the sort of dystopias has been gaining interest for the last couple of years, and I think that at some point we all know deep down that we're doomed. And so I think we're just sort of imagining the futures that are coming.
SIMON: Oh, my, do you really think we're all doomed?
ARIMAH: I do. I'm a bit of a pessimist. I do think that human nature has sort of proven time and time again that we will indulge our baser impulses. I feel like we are on a cycle. So we do well for a while and then things go downhill. We just sort of keep, you know, riding this merry go round, and so we're doomed.
SIMON: Boy, I don't think I've ever ended an interview like that before. But can we get through the weekend, do you think?
ARIMAH: (Laughter) I think we can. I certainly hope so.
SIMON: Speaking with us from Bagamoyo, Tanzania, Lesley Nneka Arimah. Her new book, "What It Means When A Man Falls From The Sky." Thanks so much.
ARIMAH: Thank you.
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