For my birthday earlier this year, my sister Rachel got me a book that I’d been wanting: Everything Here is Beautiful by Mira T. Lee. While the title and gorgeous cover art are what initially drew me to the book, it was the summary that hooked me. Much of it sounded so relevant to my life, from its foundation of sisterly bonds to one of the sisters marrying a South American man and moving to his home country. (My husband is Peruvian and I lived with him in Lima for about one year.)
Everything Here is Beautiful starts with two sisters, seven years apart, growing up in America after their mother emigrated from China. Though close as children, by adulthood their lives have separated. The older sister, Miranda, leads a career-driven life. She’s married, living in Switzerland, but still tries to keep her younger sister on track.
Lucia is the more lively and unpredictable of the two. She marries a “one-armed Russian Jew” named Yonah, making a life with him in the East Village of New York City. But soon after their mother dies, Lucia starts struggling with her mental health, hearing voices in her head.
She leaves Yonah and ends up with another man, an Ecuadorian immigrant named Manuel. Before long they have a daughter, but Lucia’s mental health is worsening by the day. Eventually, she, Manny, and their baby relocate to Ecuador to live near his parents.
Miranda does what she can to help Lucia, but with so much distance and such reluctance from Lucia, there’s not much she can do. The rift between them is hard to surmount, and only Lucia can decide if she wants to be saved.
Everything Here is Beautiful is a poetic yet heart-wrenching novel. Lucia is such a vibrant character, always looking for the joy in life, the good in people. She’s kind and ambitious, and I like that she never stops trying. Yet she’s lost in many ways, and you get the sense that she’s trying to find herself and is constantly reaching for more in life. If anything, this world is too confined for her.
Though I thought I would relate to Miranda – both as an older sister and as a more pragmatic person – she was actually harder to like at first. She’s so unlike her sister: rather closed off, cold, ready to settle for what life has given her. But for all her faults, she does care about her sister, and she works hard to ensure she gets the help she needs. In some ways, she has to battle against both Yonah and Manny in their different views on how to help Lucia.
Mira T. Lee’s depiction of mental health is a highlight of the book. Many of the people closest to me suffer from mental health issues – mainly depression and anxiety – and it’s a subject I care deeply about. Although Lucia’s struggles are more in line with schizophrenia, the stigma, fear, and denial all felt relatable. Mental illness is a difficult subject, and it’s often painful to see how it impacts people’s lives. In Everything Here is Beautiful, we watch as Lucia battles her mental illness and strives to live a full, happy life in spite of it. But no (wo)man is an island, and we also see how it affects her her sister, her spouses, and her children.
Another highlight of this novel is the diversity of its characters and how far-reaching it is. We follow two Chinese American women around the US, to Switzerland, and to Ecuador. Lucia especially interacts with a diverse crowd, first marrying a Russian Jew then starting a family with a Latino from Ecuador. In all cases, the different cultures are celebrated, and in spite of any differences, we also see how all people are fundamentally the same.
Everything Here is Beautiful is a lovely novel, and it takes a close look at heavy issues. It’s a tragic story that will bring tears to your eyes more than once, but it will also offer a glimmer of hope. I feel like a changed person after reading it, and while it was too sad to fully enjoy, it is a story that will stay with me.