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Donna Seaman

Arimah, a young writer of the UK, Nigeria, and the U.S., debuts with a slender yet mighty short story collection that delivers one head-snapping smack 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. Like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, 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, as in “Wild,” in which an in-trouble American teen is sent to live with her aunt in Lagos. 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. Babies are made of yarn, hair, and mud. In the title story, “Mathematicians” devote themselves to “calculating and subtracting emotions, drawing them from living bodies like poison from a wound.” Arimah’s stories of loss, grief, shame, fury, and love are stingingly fresh and complexly affecting.

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Arimah, a young writer of the UK, Nigeria, and the U.S., debuts with a slender yet mighty short story collection that delivers one head-snapping smack 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. Like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, 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, as in “Wild,” in which an in-trouble American teen is sent to live with her aunt in Lagos. 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. Babies are made of yarn, hair, and mud. In the title story, “Mathematicians” devote themselves to “calculating and subtracting emotions, drawing them from living bodies like poison from a wound.” Arimah’s stories of loss, grief, shame, fury, and love are stingingly fresh and complexly affecting.

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