Friday, January 18, 2019

CELEBRATION OF PAPERBACK RELEASE for Everything Here is Beautiful by Mira T. Lee

I reviewed this when it came out in hardcover and loved it!   I am so excited that Mira T. Lee's Everything Here is Beautiful is now available in paperback.   With a new cover, it is the same amazing story. 

Hardcover, 368 pages
Expected publication: January 16th 2018 by Pamela Dorman Books

Two sisters: Miranda, the older, responsible one, always her younger sister's protector; Lucia, the vibrant, headstrong, unconventional one, whose impulses are huge and, often, life changing. When their mother dies and Lucia starts to hear voices, it's Miranda who must fight for the help her sister needs — even as Lucia refuses to be defined by any doctor's diagnosis.

Determined, impetuous, she plows ahead, marrying a big-hearted Israeli only to leave him, suddenly, to have a baby with a young Latino immigrant. She will move with her new family to Ecuador, but the bitter constant remains: she cannot escape her own mental illness. Lucia lives life on a grand scale, until inevitably, she crashes to earth. And then Miranda must decide, again, whether or not to step in — but this time, Lucia may not want to be saved. The bonds of sisterly devotion stretch across oceans, but what does it take to break them?

Told from alternating perspectives, Everything Here Is Beautiful is, at its core, a heart-wrenching family drama about relationships and tough choices — how much we're willing to sacrifice for the ones we love, and when it's time to let go and save ourselves.

My Thoughts…

Everything Here Is Beautiful is a story about family and mental illness.   Each family member has to make tough decisions in their lives yet they still manage to stand by each other.  

Lucia has a “normal” childhood until her 20’s when the serpents start talking to her in her head.    Her mental illness takes her life into directions that no one would want to take.    What I took away from all her mental issues was how much her sister, Miranda, stood by her.   Even when on a different continent Miranda manages to keep in touch and find ways to support Lucia.     I loved how Miranda stands up to her husband to help her sister when she needs it the most yet she doesn’t allow Lucia to take advantage.   

By reading this book I was able to better understand how mental illness can affect a person, a family, and a society.   The points of view of Lucia without the serpents and Lucia with the serpents opens my eyes to how helpless a person can be when really they just want a life with love, support, and family.      Miranda, Manny, and Yonah also get their turns sharing their stories in alternating chapters.   This gives the reader a total look at the life of Lucia and how it appears to those who know her best.     

Mira T. Lee is amazing.   This is a debut book from her and she has already secured a spot on my MUST-READ list.   I highly recommend picking up your own copy of Everything Here is Beautiful. 

Add to your MUST-READ list on Goodreads
Purchase your own copy at AMAZON or BARNES AND NOBLE

About Mira T. Lee

Mira T. Lee's debut novel, Everything Here is Beautiful, was selected by the American Booksellers Association as one of Winter/Spring 2018's Top 10 Debut titles. Her short fiction has appeared in journals such as the Southern Review, the Gettysburg Review, the Missouri Review, TriquarterlyHarvard Review, and American Short Fiction, and has twice received special mention for the Pushcart Prize. She was awarded the Peden Prize for Best Short Story byThe Missouri Review (2010), and an Artist's Fellowship from the Massachusetts Cultural Council (2012).

Learn more about Mira at GOODREADS, Twitter, or Facebook

1.       You have called Everything Here Is Beautiful “a messy family drama”—one that examines our responsibilities to our loved ones, and what happens when personal fulfillment is at odds with familial obligation. Can you expand on that a little, and why you wanted to dig into this theme?
The quick answer would be, families are messy, and this makes for rich storytelling. I imagine just about every family harbors its own secrets, dysfunction, stubborn patterns and hidden resentments borne in childhood that you can’t ever quite escape. We don’t get to choose our families, yet we’re bound to them by this odd combination of love and obligation. Add to that the pressures of illness or immigration or marital strife, and you get something pretty fraught. A mentor of mine once said, “Never guess at the interior lives of others.” But the writer in me wanted to do just that—explore the interior lives of my characters as they bumped up against one another. I’ve always been drawn to “gray areas,” those difficult situations with no right or wrong answers, where good people find themselves in conflict and nobody can win without hurting someone they love. I like complexity, and family dynamics are really, really complicated.

2.       Much of the book deals with what it is like to struggle with mental illness, or to love someone who does—yet you have said you did not want this to be a book “about” mental illness. What do you mean by that? Why did you choose to tackle this topic, and what story did you want to tell about mental illness?

Mental illness, and particularly, schizophrenia, is a subject matter very close to my heart. I’ve seen my own family members struggle with it, and it is, in a word, devastating. But I didn’t want to write a book about an illness, I wanted to write a story about lives—specifically, four very different lives, and how each one’s trajectory was impacted by Lucia’s. These illnesses are unpredictable and pervasive, they screw up marriages, derail careers, jeopardize lifelong relationships with family and friends. Crises happen just as a parent gets sick, or a baby is born, or as Immigration shows up to deport an undocumented family member. And our mental healthcare system is riddled with intractable problems. Embedding Lucia’s illness within such storylines allowed for a much broader scope and more compelling plot, which hopefully keeps readers turning pages. I like a story with lots of nuance, and the ripple effects of mental illness certainly provide for that. But it also has to move, entertain, engage.

3.       The novel switches between perspectives, allowing the reader to access both Miranda and Lucia’s points of view, as well as those of Manny and Yonah, the men in Lucia’s life. What motivated this narrative choice, and did you find it challenging to get into the heads of the different characters?

I wanted to explore all the different sides of these predicaments I’d put my characters in, and having them speak from their own vantage points, each with their own stake in Lucia’s wellbeing, made for richer characterizations. It also felt natural in terms of the way the plot moved. The tricky part was finding the right voice for each section. It was interesting though, because you’d think the men might be harder to write, since on the surface they appear less similar to me. But their voices were clear, and I could wiggle into their heads through our commonalities—like Manny’s experience as the terrified parent of a newborn, or Stefan’s concern over his spouse’s decisions. Lucia’s voice was by far the most difficult. I always envisioned her as being much more brilliant and perceptive than I am, which posed a real challenge. It’s humbling to realize that a character can only be as brilliant as her creator, but I kept feeling like I was holding her back!

4.       The book also jumps around geographically, from New York to the Swiss Alps, to a tiny village in Ecuador. What compelled you about these distinct and diverse settings? How did you go about making them come alive on the page?

I think the men came before the settings. That is, the story originated in New York, but veered geographically out of necessity, because the sisters became involved with men from these other countries. Switzerland and Ecuador definitely fit with the sisters’ personalities, but honestly, when I started writing, I had no idea so much of the book would take place overseas! “Going there” felt quite daunting. But I’d spent time in those places, and I researched further by reading travel blogs by expats and backpackers, as well as local news sites. I also collected photographs that I’d describe—a dirt road, or a crowded bus, for example. Having visual references was really helpful; it’s the smallest details that make a place come to life.

5.       Narratives of mental illness are often white and middle-class, yet mental illness does not discriminate—it devastates regardless of race, gender, and ethnicity. Was it important for you to challenge that narrative, and to have a wide cast of characters from different backgrounds?

It wasn’t my intention to challenge the predominantly white, middle-class narrative of mental illness we most often see these days; I wrote the book with characters from all different backgrounds simply because such people have been the norm in my own life. At some point I did wonder, should I make my characters white? Cross-cultural stories in America still seem rare in fiction, but it’s true, mental illnesses do not discriminate. I decided to keep my characters the way they were, and now I’m really glad I did. I think it’s important to see these illnesses portrayed in communities of color, where stigma can be especially strong. And I’d argue that it’s also important to see stories starring people of color that don’t necessarily fit into the expected frameworks, for example, of an “Asian-American story” or a “cultural novel.” I like surprises. And I don’t want to have to write only what’s expected of me.

6.       At one point in the novel, Miranda and Lucia’s mother says, “Immigrants are the strongest… Everywhere we go, we rebuild.” Can you talk about the role that immigration, and cultural displacement, plays in the novel?

In my twenties and early thirties, it seemed like everyone I knew came from another country: first generation immigrants, international students, visiting scientists, musicians, programmers, small business owners, legal, illegal, you name it. And all matter of romantic entanglements were going on! So my characters, too, all go through periods of cultural displacement. I liked the off-kilter feeling it provided, how no one ever felt quite grounded, and even if one character was “home,” their spouse/partner wasn’t, which set up lots of natural conflicts. I also liked exploring the reasons people choose to leave their home countries, how sometimes they’re moving towards something (opportunity, promises, family); but sometimes they’re also running away (from their pasts, their secrets, their families, expectations).

7.       Everything Here Is Beautiful is an intimate book about love, loss, and family. But it also revolves around larger societal and institutional concerns like mental illness, immigration, and healthcare. How did you balance the scope of the narrative, and tackle those big issues, while still keeping it a personal and emotionally poignant story?

I always thought of it as a small, organic story. I think if I’d thought about it as tackling “big issues,” I might’ve felt like I was supposed to Say Something Important, which probably would’ve just come off as contrived or pedantic, or turned my characters into archetypes. So it was always about the narrative, family relationships. At points, I do try to educate the reader about some of the issues involved with psychotic illnesses—anosognosia (“lack of insight”), for example, or medications, or how the mental health care system works (or doesn’t)—because the reader needs an understanding of these issues in order to relate to Miranda’s frustrations. To me, great fiction happens when we find the humanity in each of our characters, no matter who they are or what their situations may be. Even when we’re unfamiliar with a particular experience, we can relate at an emotional level. I think that’s what empathy is all about.

8.       What do you hope readers will take away from Everything Here Is Beautiful?

I do hope readers will gain a sense of the issues surrounding schizophrenia, which is perhaps still the most severe and stigmatized of all the mental illnesses, but one deserving of just as much compassion. I also hope people see that these illnesses are only one component of a person’s life, and can relate to the humanity at the core of each of these characters—as sisters, mothers, husbands, lovers, as modern women, as deeply flawed human beings who yearn for love and belonging. But I also hope readers will disagree over what these characters should or shouldn’t have done. The world is gray, full of contradictions, and if I’ve managed to illuminate some aspect of that, then I think I’ve done this story justice.

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