What happens when a woman tries not to turn into her mother or to emerge from under her mother's shadow? What is the fate of an immigrant woman who tries to bridge the divide between her adopted country and the country of her birth? She may end up somewhere in-between. Such is the fate of the protagonist in Elizabeth Nunez's latest novel, Anna In-Between.
Anna Sinclair can be your sister, your cousin or your best friend. Anna is the senior editor at the Windsor publishing company in New York City and head of the company's imprint Equiano Books. But to her mother's dismay, Anna finds herself 'childless and single at 39', which is not exactly the achievement a mother wants to brag about.
Beatrice Sinclair can be your mother, your aunt or your godmother. Emotionally restrained and somewhat aloof, Beatrice has adjusted to her role as mistress of household with a reputation for being controlling. As her husband John noted, Beatrice needs to boss others around, from Lydia the cook, to Singh the gardener, and her daughter Anna.
Anna departs from New York City to visit the Caribbean island of her birth and, this time around, she decides to spend a month instead of her usual 7 to 10 days. Upon arrival at her ancestral home, Anna finds she is quickly cast back into her role as child, in a household that is suffused with customs, rituals and hierarchy. The mother-daughter tension is ever present, simmering beneath the surface, and comes to a boil when Beatrice reveals to Anna that she is ill. She has lumps under her arm, swollen lymph nodes and another lump in her left breast. All signs point to cancer.
Anna is overwhelmed by the news of her mother's illness but finds herself tempering her reaction, with regret. She reflects, "In America she is freed from these strictures of her social class so rigidly enforced when she is home. In America, she can bleed all over someone, she can cry, she can scream and no one will say to her, "Don't. It's a character flaw." Anna favors medical care and suggest that her mother visits an oncologist; Beatrice seeks recourse through divine intervention, indicating she has been praying the rosary as often as six times per day.
Anna In-Between is also an immigrant woman's story, the saga of a woman who grapples with her insider-outsider status as she tries to forge a sense of place as a black immigrant woman in America. Anna ponders, "Is a true West Indian one who listens exclusively to reggae, calypso, and steel pan music, one who finds no enjoyment in European classical music, who indeed derides it? ... Does a true West Indian own his own home but crowds six families into the rooms to pay the mortgage?"
The ambiguity persists even after Anna returns to the country of her birth where she second guesses whether or not her fate would have been different had she not left. "Will she always be on the outside? Will they, the ones who did not emigrate, always be on the inside?" Anna's mother, cognizant of her daughter's insecurity, sometimes takes advantage of the situation. "A few minutes ago, her mother almost pushed her down that crevice that threatens to swallow her no matter how firmly she has planted her feet on either side of the yawning gap, each foot on solid ground, one in America, the other in the island of her birth."
Finally, Anna In-Between is a woman's journey through the maze of the publishing industry which can often be unwelcoming to different perspectives, an establishment where decision makers "refuse to find themselves in black characters." Anna assesses the state of the industry by noting, "Fiction best achieves the universal through the specific. It is by telling stories that are plausible, about characters who are believable, that the writer eases us into exploring the many facets of the human condition. What if the worlds they inhabit are worlds inhabited by other people of color?" Yes indeed, what if?