Anna In-Between

Anna In-Between

by Elizabeth Nunez


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"The award-winning author of Prospero's Daughter has written a novel more intimate than her usual big-picture work; this moving exploration of immigrant identity has a protagonist caught between race, class and a mother's love."—Ms. Magazine

Praise for Prospero's Daughter:

"Gripping and richly imagined . . . Nunez is a master at pacing and plotting."—The New York Times, Editors' Choice

"Nunez's fiction, with its lush, lyric cadences and whirlwind narrative, casts a seductive spell."—O Magazine

Anna In-Between is Elizabeth Nunez's finest literary achievement to date. In spare prose, with laserlike attention to every word and the juxtaposition of words to each other, Nunez returns to themes of emotional alienation, within the context of class and color discrimination, so richly developed in her earlier novels.

Anna, the novel's main character who has a successful publishing career in the United States, is the daughter of an upper-class Caribbean family. While on vacation in the island home of her birth she discovers that her mother, Beatrice, has breast cancer. Beatrice categorically rejects all efforts to persuade her to go to the United States for treatment, even though it is, perhaps, her only chance of survival. Anna and her father, who tries to remain respectful of his wife's wishes, must convince her to change her mind.

Elizabeth Nunez is provost at Medgar Evers College, the City University of New York, and an award-winning author of seven novels, including Prospero's Daughter (New York Times Editors' Choice; 2006 Novel of the Year, Black Issues Book Review) and Bruised Hibiscus (American Book Award). She is co-editor with Jennifer Sparrow of the anthology Stories from Blue Latitudes: Caribbean Women Writers at Home and Abroad.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781936070695
Publisher: Akashic Books
Publication date: 09/01/2010
Pages: 352
Product dimensions: 8.52(w) x 11.22(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Elizabeth Nunez is the award-winning author of a memoir and nine novels, four of them selected asNew York TimesEditors' Choice. Her two most recent books areNot for Everyday Use, a memoir, which won the 2015 prestigious Hurston Wright Legacy Award for nonfiction, and the novelEven in Paradise, a contemporary version of Shakespeare'sKing Lear.Her other novels are:Boundaries(nominated for the 2012 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Fiction);Anna In-Between(PEN Oakland Award for Literary Excellence and long-listed for an IMPAC Dublin International Literary Award);Prospero's Daughter(2010 Trinidad and Tobago One Book, One Community selection, and the 2006 Florida Center for the Literary Arts One Book, One Community);Bruised Hibiscus(American Book Award);Beyond the Limbo Silence (Independent Publishers Book Award);Grace;Discretion; andWhen Rocks Dance. Nunez received her PhD from New York University and is a Distinguished Professor at Hunter College, CUNY, where she teaches courses on Caribbean Women Writers and Creative Writing.

Read an Excerpt


Morning. Seven twenty-seven. The bell rings, calling the family to breakfast. Anna makes a quick, final check in the mirror. Three more minutes. Everything is in place. Her hair is brushed back smoothly across her head and gathered at the nape of her neck with a brown tortoise shell clasp. No need for makeup. After a cold winter in New York, the heat from the Caribbean sun has stirred her blood to the surface and left her face flushed, her brown skin glowing, her lips fiery bronze. One year short of forty she still attracts attention, a second look, though not necessarily an admiring glance. Her facial features set her apart from most of the native-born blacks in New York who trace ancestors to West Africa. With her long nose, deep-set eyes, high cheekbones, and red-tinged toffee brown coloring, she is often mistaken for an Ethiopian, sometimes an Indian. A visible immigrant.

The bell again. Another number drops on the minute column on the digital clock. Seven twenty-nine. She runs her fingers around the waistband of her white shorts, tucks in the light pink–collared knit shirt she has chosen carefully, twirls, adjusts, checks herself in the mirror again, bends down, tightens the straps on her brown sandals. She is ready. Prepared.

Another bell. The last. Seven thirty. She leaves the bedroom and walks down the corridor toward the family dining room. Her parents are already seated, her father at the head of the table, her mother at his right.

At the right hand of the Father. The lines of a remembered childhood prayer flit across her brain. A little girl, too young to understand place, she had climbed into her father's chair. "Sit down, Daddy. Sit down." She pointed to a vacant chair. But her father kept moving, pacing back and forth behind her, scratching his chin, his forehead furrowed. Her mother came to his rescue and lifted her out of the chair. "That's Daddy's place," she said.

"Anna!" Her mother has heard her footsteps. "How lovely you look!"

As if the spoken word were a tangible thing, Anna feels lovely spread across her face and pull her lips back into a broad smile.

Her mother is impeccably dressed — as she always is. This morning she is wearing one of the American dresses Anna bought for her, a beige linen shift with large white buttons that run from the neck to the hem. On her mother the dress looks elegant, much more than had ever seemed possible to Anna when she picked it out from the sales rack at Bloomingdale's.

"Your complexion was sallow when you arrived," her mother says. "But look at you now!"

At seventy-one, Beatrice Sinclair is still as beautiful as the picture Anna has carried in her head from the first time she left home more than twenty years ago. In that uncanny way that husbands and wives grow to resemble each other, her mother resembles her father. The color of their skin is butterscotch brown, their features an amalgam of the aboriginal, the conquerors, the enslaved, the enslavers: the Amerindian people who first lived on the island, the Europeans who for centuries claimed it, the Africans brought there on slave ships, Indians and Chinese who exchanged indentured labor for the hope of land ownership; others, like the impoverished Portuguese, who came seeking their fortune. But in the nineteenth century the island was not yet El Dorado, though there was money to be made in cocoa and sugarcane. One century later the Spanish explorers would be proven right. Not yellow gold, but black gold — oil — lay in abundance in swollen pockets under the island's coastal waters and across its southern lands.

Objectively, the resemblance between Beatrice and John Sinclair ends there, with this combination of Amerindian, European, and African blood that runs in their veins. But husbands and wives who have lived together this long often unconsciously mimic each other's expressions, softening objective differences, molding distinctive features so that one barely notices that the shapes of the faces are different, that the noses, eyes, and mouths are not the same. Beatrice's face is rounder than John's, her eyes deeper and darker, her cheekbones raised high like those of her Amerindian aboriginal ancestors. The shape of their lips is inverted, Beatrice's top lip fuller than her bottom lip, John's top lip thinner. Indeed, both of John's lips, the top and the bottom, are quite thin. When he clamps his mouth shut in anger, his lips disappear. His nose is long, bent at the tip; hers flares slightly at the end of her nose bridge. Yet the impression they give is that of relatives who share a similar lineage.

"The bell was for us," Beatrice Sinclair says, a sort of apology directed to her daughter. "You needn't have come out."

But Anna is in her mother's house and she knows that as long as one's parents are alive, one is still a child, their child. If one returns to the house where they raised you, where you were a child, a dependent, you show respect, you obey their rules, no matter if you are nearing forty, no matter if you have a big job, with big responsibilities, as she has, as a senior editor at the Windsor publishing company in New York City, head of the company's imprint, Equiano Books, with the power to say yes or no, to fulfill or dash the hopes of writers. So she holds her tongue. She does not say, How did you expect me to sleep through three bells? She does not say, You wanted me up. The bell was to make sure I would be here on time for breakfast. She has not forgotten the rules: breakfast at seven thirty; lunch at twelve thirty; tea at four; dinner at six.

"I was already awake," she says. She greets her parents formally. "Good morning, Mummy. Good morning, Daddy."

In her parents' house, in the home of Caribbean parents, the child says, Good morning, Mummy. Good morning, Daddy. At night before she goes to bed she says good night to her parents. This is the custom, the respect that is expected even of grownup children, even of adults nearing forty.

"I heard you when you got up, Daddy," she says to her father.

He was wearing pajamas when she saw him through her bedroom window at dawn, the fabric at the top of the pants bunched together in his hands like a bouquet of flowers, the two ends of the string drawn through the loop of waistband dangling loose at the opening. She had given him the pajama set and the bedroom slippers he was wearing, both she had bought in winter, conscious even then that the sleeves and pants of the pajamas were too long, the slippers made of velvet, too thick for this tropical climate. Her chest tightened when he bent down, releasing one hand to pick up the rolled up newspaper the paperboy threw over the gate. So much dignity. An old man in his pajamas, wearing velvet slippers to please her, holding the top of his pants in one hand to keep them from falling. He is not in pajamas now, but he has on the same shirt and shorts he wore the day before, a sea blue cotton shirt that is wrinkled, khaki shorts that are stained. Her mother has long given up her battle to change this habit he has of wearing the same clothes day after day. The logic of his defense has left her frustrated. "Wasting water in a drought," he says in the dry season when she tells him that Lydia, their helper, would happily wash his clothes. In the wet season he takes the offensive, challenging her to criticize him. "Do I look untidy?" And in truth John Sinclair never looks untidy. Even in a wrinkled shirt and stained pants, he is stately, a gentleman in retirement.

"Oh, yes, Singh," her mother says drily and glances at her husband.

Singh is their gardener. He has worked for them for more than forty years. Singh will be seventy-eight this year.

"I let him in," John Sinclair says. "He's waiting in the garden for you, Beatrice. Something about the orchids."

It was the insistent ringing of Singh's bicycle bell that woke her that morning and drew her roughly out of a deep sleep, leaving her in a daze until the scent of oranges and dew-soaked grass cleared her head and brought her to the present, here, the place of her birth, the Caribbean, once her home. And after the bicycle bell, there were the familiar sounds she had memorized: the key turning in the lock of her parents' bedroom door, the soft patter of her father's slippered feet along the corridor, the jangle of the house keys as he searched for the right one to unlock the wrought iron gate that closes off the sleeping quarters. Then the loud thud, metal hitting the stone pillars, when he pressed the button on the kitchen wall that opened the electric iron gate. The gate is there to protect them from thieves, from the rash of criminals spawned overnight by huge profits to be made from illegal drugs. All, to Anna's mind, useless, for a schoolboy can scale the iron railings with ease.

"I don't know why you keep having Singh come," her father says to her mother. "I can't see what he has to do. We hired two boys to cut the lawn and trim the hedges. What's left for Singh to do?"

"He weeds." Beatrice plucks invisible threads from the skirt of her dress.

"The boys we hired can weed," her father says tersely.

"He weeds my flowerbeds. I don't want those boys to weed my flowerbeds. They don't seem to be able to tell the difference between a weed and a seedling for one of my flowering plants."

"Then train them, Beatrice."

"Singh is already trained. He knows what to do."

"I just don't see the need for Singh, that's all." Her father mumbles these words; he does not say them with conviction.

Her mother shakes her head. Her expression is one of pained forbearance.

Anna wants to distract them. She asks her father to pass the bread to her.

"Lydia made it," her mother says. "Your father and I are really lucky to have her as a helper." Her tongue lingers on the last word. Ever since the island became a nation, helper, not maid, is the term she must use when she refers to Lydia. She smiles coyly as if waiting to be commended for complying. Her husband looks up at her approvingly.

The loaf of bread is a perfect brick shape, the crust a warm honey brown, the sides golden. Lydia bakes the bread the day before but under orders from Beatrice Sin-clair she does not slice it. She has placed the bread and a serrated knife on the breadboard, next to Mr. Sinclair, on his left side. It is Mr. Sinclair's duty to slice the bread at breakfast. He does so now, cutting off four pieces, and passes the breadboard first to his wife, who takes one, and then to his daughter, who takes another.

"Have two slices, Anna," her father says, still holding the breadboard in front of her.

"The two left are for you," Anna replies.

"I can cut more."

Her mother pushes his hand away. "Anna is watching her waistline," she says.

"She doesn't need to watch her waistline," her father says. "She looks just perfect to me."

Anna smiles at him gratefully and he takes advantage of her gratitude. "So what do you think, Anna? Do you think we still need Singh?"

She will not fall into her father's trap. Her parents may argue, but they always end up on the same side. "Mummy must still need him," she says, hoping she has found a middle ground that will please them both.

"Yes. Singh takes care of my orchids," Beatrice Sin-clair says.

"Hmm." Her husband raises his chin and brings his lips together.

"Besides," Beatrice says, "we can't just let him go. He's been with us too long. If we let him go, we'll have to give him a pension."

"I'd rather give him a pension than have him walking up and down the lawn doing nothing," John Sinclair says.

"He's not doing nothing," her mother responds adamantly.

John Sinclair reaches for the serving dish in front of him. Lydia has prepared sardines with onions. She has aligned the silvery fish in rows in the middle of the oval platter. On the top, she has put glistening circles of sliced raw onions and surrounded them with red tomatoes on green lettuce leaves. The arrangement is beautiful, almost too good to eat.

John Sinclair offers the platter to his wife. She is still simmering from his response. Her lips are pursed. "In any case," she says emphatically, spooning two sardines and some of the garnish on her plate, "I need Singh."

That is the end of that, Anna thinks, but her father gets in one last stab. "You know, Anna, your mother does not need Singh to weed her flowerbeds or to help her with her orchids."

He is looking across the table directly at her, deliberately bypassing her mother. It is a strategy he sometimes uses, one that unnerves her mother. Anna wants to say, Speak to her, not to me, she's your wife, but her father has rescued her from her mother's criticism. Her mother's comment about her waistline was not benign. Anna has lost all the weight she gained when her husband left her, but her mother has not ceased to intimate with her constant reminders, wrapped deceptively under the guise of the solicitous urgings of a concerned parent, that if not for her ballooning waistline her husband might have returned to her, or, at the very least, another man would be attracted to her.

It bothers Anna that at her age she should allow her mother to have this power over her, that her mother's one remark about her waistline should have her harboring desires for vengeance. It irritates her more to admit she has dressed for her, that she has carefully chosen the outfit she is wearing because she knew it would please her. That she felt a warm flush in her chest when her mother said, How lovely you look.

She will not come to her rescue. Her mother wants an ally, but she will keep her head averted, her eyes focused on her father.

"Your mother needs Singh," her father says, "so she can have someone to boss around. Singh does what she tells him to do."

For five long minutes they eat in silence — an eternity it seems to Anna. Neither says a word to the other. Her mother lowers her head and concentrates on the food on her plate, carefully placing pieces of sardines on the back of her fork. Anna feels embarrassed for her. She cannot deny her mother enjoys her role as mistress, as boss of the domestic affairs of her home, but her husband has exposed her in the presence of her daughter.

She is about to say something flattering to her mother when her father reaches for his wife's hand. "Which man would mind doing some little thing for the most beautiful woman in the world?" he says to her.

To Anna's surprise, her mother's eyes light up.

After breakfast they go their separate ways, Anna to her room to fetch a novel she plans to read in the veranda. It's a luxury she will permit herself today. Tomorrow will be time enough to begin the work she has brought with her from Equiano Books. Tomorrow, with her blue pencil she will tackle the manuscript from a new writer she has recently discovered. Today, she will read a polished work that does not need her critical eye.

The veranda is the coolest part of the Sinclairs' sprawling one-story ranch-style house. The home was designed for them by an architect, a local man trained in America, in the '50s when ranch-style houses were de rigueur, and is unquestionably the most fashionable in their neighborhood. The problem, though, is the ceilings are low and trap the heat inside. Fortunately, Anna's mother had insisted on a covered veranda with cool terrazzo floors. It is a large veranda, with high ceilings made of polished dark wood, and extends along almost the entire length of the house, enough space to allow Mrs. Sinclair to entertain large parties outside of the living room. There are three sets of wicker furniture in the veranda, which Mrs. Sinclair has made comfortable with plump, colorful cushions, a bar with six stools for Mr. Sinclair, as well as a powder room for the ladies. To provide privacy for his client on the side of the veranda that faces the street, the architect built a low wall punctuated with five enormous U-shaped dips above which hang huge baskets of green fern. Right angled to this wall are glass sliding doors which open to the living and dining rooms. Mrs. Sinclair has arranged a rock garden around a tall red-trunked palm tree in an uncovered section of the veranda, and in another uncovered part she has allowed Mr. Sinclair to build a pond for his fish. Anna guesses that her father is at the pond, feeding his fish. She will chat with him awhile before settling down with her novel.

As she approaches the corridor that leads to the kitchen, she overhears her mother giving instructions to Lydia for their lunch. "Use plenty of garlic and thyme. Mr. Sinclair likes his food seasoned well."


Excerpted from "Anna In-Between"
by .
Copyright © 2009 Elizabeth Nunez.
Excerpted by permission of Akashic Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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