Miranda and Lucia arrived in New York with their mother on a flight from China. Miranda was a young child, her sister Lucia still residing in their mother’s belly. Their father had died suddenly, turning their lives upside down. Life in America looms.
This beautiful debut novel begins with one of those startling first sentences that draws you right in with: Lucia said she was going to marry a one-armed Russian Jew. How can you not continue? Little did I know what a journey I was about to begin.
Moving from America to Ecuador to Switzerland, then back to America, EVERYTHING HERE IS BEAUTIFUL, keeps you on your toes. There is really no one theme to this novel. It’s about sisters, parenting, immigration, love, empathy, courage. I could go on and on…mental illness.
Lucia is in her twenties when she marries Yonah, who is from Israel. He lost his arm at a young age while fighting in the war. He is full of life and Lucia falls madly in love with this older man who owns a health food store in the East Village in NYC. They live happily in tiny rooms next door. All is well until Lucia’s latent mental illness roars its ugly head. Thinking herself cured, she’s on no medication. Soon, she’s out of control. Miranda steps in to help, as she always has done. Lucia’s madness is finally under control again. But not for long. She begins longing for a child. One day she leaves Yonah for a much younger undocumented immigrant. Manny is from Ecuador. He’s charming and handsome and has no idea that his life is about to change forever.
Told in varying points of view, we get great insight to these characters. Miranda, always the older sister. Constantly feeling guilty and responsible for Lucia. Never feeling she can do enough. Trying to understand the cause and effects of psychosis. Putting her own life on hold. Miranda marries and moves to Switzerland. She is hoping Lucia is finally taking her medication regularly.
Lucia and Manny have a beautiful baby daughter and it throws Lucia into the depths of madness once again. Lucia spends time in the hospital and gets herself back up to par, but it’s taken its toll. Once out of the hospital she persuades Manny to move back to Ecuador with her and the baby in tow. They have visions of opening their own business close to Manny’s family. Yes, they are close to his family, but, once at home, he slides into the cultural ways. Everything is different. Though Lucia is welcomed into the family and the baby is loved and adored, everything about family life in Ecuador is opposite of family life in America and soon Lucia feels stifled and misses her job.
Lee does a stellar job of showing us both sides of the story. We learn how Manny feels living outside his home country. He is also illegal in America and lives with that over his head constantly. But Lucia has different issues. She is in Ecuador legally. But she has no work outside the home. And the home is little more than a hut with mud floors in the middle of nowhere. Nowhere but a stone’s throw from Manny’s mother. No modern conveniences. They actually wash their clothes in the river with stones and dry them on the bank. For the women, the days are filled with cleaning, washing, and cooking the meals. It takes all day to do these, every day.
I know very little of mental illness. At times, I felt worn out reading through the bouts of ups and downs. Loved ones feel helpless and sometimes hopeless. This is genetic. And the cure is medicine to help keep it at bay. Mostly, the meds have adverse side affects that are not nice. And often the patients stop taking them because they either feel they no longer need them, or, they can’t stand the awful affects.
Lee brings us a timely and sensitive story full of characters you will not soon forget. This novel made me think. It has helped make me more aware of the affects of mental illness. And it’s beautifully written by an author I look forward to reading again soon.
My beautiful review copy of EVERYTHING HERE IS BEAUTIFUL by Mira T. Lee arrived thanks to the generous people at Pamela Dorman Publishing, a division of Viking, in exchange for an honest review. It’s a keeper, one of the big books of this season! Thanks.