Award-winning author of numerous novels and story collections Edwidge Danticat returns with Everything Inside, a collection that was named a highly-anticipated book of the summer by Lit Hub, Los Angeles Times, Newsweek, and TIME, among others. The eight narratives tell of displacement, survival, and the subsequent longing to be somewhere else, and are largely set in either Miami or Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
The book’s title is derived from an image in the first story, “Dosas,” which follows a home healthcare worker in Miami. Elsie scrambles to gather ransom money for her ex-husband, who calls her panicked, claiming that his new girlfriend has been kidnapped in Port-au-Prince. On Elsie’s front door is a sticker of a silhouette, which on one side reads “Nothing inside is worth dying for” and on the other side, “nothing” is scratched out and replaced with “everything.”
This message lends itself to the sentiment Danticat creates with these stories — the feeling that nothing matters, that human lives are small and insignificant, while at the same time emphasizing that each moment that we’re given really is precious.
Another story focuses on a nanny for a wealthy family in Haiti who has been diagnosed with AIDS and abandoned by the man who promised her marriage. In another, called “Sunrise, Sunset,” a family is brought together for a baby’s christening, and the narrative is told in part by the baby’s new mother and in part by the aging grandmother, who has severe dementia, a condition which leads to a life-threatening crisis.
Themes that link the stories together focus on the life of the displaced as well as the life of the children of immigrants. “Seven Stories” follows writer Kimberly Boyer on a journey to visit a childhood friend who is now the wife of the prime minister of an unnamed country in the Caribbean. An old man at a fancy dinner she attends on New Year’s Eve says, “We have to do something about all the Haitians who keep washing up on our shores.” Kimberly’s parents are Haitian, though she was raised in Brooklyn, and she calms herself by reasoning that “there were people like this everywhere who felt the same way about some group or other.”
The emotional final story, “Without Inspection,” which first appeared in The New Yorker in 2018, is told from the perspective of a man who has just fallen from a scaffold at a construction site. During his six-and-a-half-second descent, he recounts literally washing up on the shore of Miami in hopes of a better life. He recalls meeting his now-partner, who helped those entering the country illegally by waiting for them to appear on the beach and swiftly driving them to safety.
These topics are especially poignant given the state of immigration opportunities in the United States at present. Faced with increasing ICE raids and brutal familial separation tactics, these still-hopeful settlers share a commonality with Danticat’s characters; the oft-deflated expectation that life must be better somewhere else. It astounds just how much people can endure and retain hope –– still find meaning in daily work and in love. As Carole, the grandmother struggling with dementia, thinks to herself, “Sometimes you just have to shake the devil off you, whatever that devil is.”
Everything Inside is vibrant and hauntingly human.
By Edwidge Danticat
August 27, 2019