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Anna In Between, by Elizabeth Nunez.

June 7, 2013

Anna In-Between, by Elizabeth Nunez.  New York : Akashic Books, c2010.

 GLOBAL WOMEN OF COLOR

A warm, moving novel by Caribbean author about a successful New York editor visiting her parents back on her home island and rethinking her own racial identity.

Elizabeth Nunez is a favorite author of mine because of the exquisite way she describes the ambiguities and conflicts within her characters.  She has the ability to create empathetic situations and characters and, at the same time, to expose me to lives unlike my own. Through the voice of her main character, she explains her own commitment to eradicating racism through her writing.

This is the essence of racism, Anna thinks, this refusal of people to see themselves in the lives of others whose skin color is different than their own. 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 Nunez accomplishes in Ann In-Between is exactly what she claimed as the potential for the novel to “ease” us into the reality of how all people are both the same and different.

In Anna In-Between, Nunez drew me in with poignant accounts of the relationship between Anna and her mother.  At times my empathy with both the mother and the daughter was almost painful.  Anna is divorced and almost 40 and returning home to the Caribbean to spend a month with her parents, now in their 70s and 80s.  She has a successful career as an editor for a major publisher in New York, which her mother likes to brag about, but doesn’t understand.  On her arrival she learns that her mother has had tumor in her breast for over two years but done nothing about getting medical attention. Her father knew about the lump but had not talked to his wife about it because he refused to invade her “privacy.”  Anna’s presence leads her mother to get chemotherapy, but she refuses to go to the United States where surgery, not available on the island, could save her life.  As the novel progresses, Anna rethinks her childhood and learns to appreciate her parents in new ways.

Interwoven with Anna’s discomfort at being an outsider with her family is her sense that while she could never return to the island permanently, she does not belong in America either.  The particular island to which she has returned is not named, perhaps because Nunez makes negative comments about its government’s failures since independence from the British.  It could be Trinidad, Nunez’s childhood home, and a place where immigrants from India and China were brought in to work in the sugar fields when the Africans refused to do the labor after they were freed.

Anna honors the sheer diversity of her island heritage despite the fact that African Americans have pressured her to be “more African.”  Her ex-husband could not accept her loyalty to the parts of her identity that came not only from Africa, but also from the Amerindians native to the island, from the Chinese and the Indian immigrants and even from the British.  As a child her father had taken a position as a labor negotiator for a British company that paid him well enough for the family to live more luxuriously, but for Anna moving into the community of British administrators had begun her alienation from the island.  Trying to sort out her racial identity is closely tied to her reassessing her place in her family.

I strongly recommend this novel for all readers, especially those interested in mother-daughter relationships and with the variety of racial identities.

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