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Belletrista - A site promoting translated women authored literature from around the world


by Elizabeth Nunez
Reviewed by Darryl Morris

The title of this insightful novel serves as a perfect descriptor for its major theme: the boundaries that separate cultures, literature, colleagues, and those who love and sustain each of us.

Anna Sinclair, the only daughter of an upper middle class Caribbean family, has overcome numerous obstacles to become the senior editor at Equiano Press, a division within a major publishing company, Windsor, that focuses on writers of color. The publisher had been struggling until it struck gold by signing two bestselling African American authors whose urban fiction made millions of dollars for the company. Anna dislikes publishing these books, and seeks out writers of color who produce quality literary fiction. She scores a coup by acquiring the rights to the latest novel by Bess Milford, which she believes will be a critical and financial success.

Anna leaves New York to attend to her elderly mother, who is seriously ill with advanced breast cancer. While there, she meets a fellow divorcee, Paul Bishop, an oncologic surgeon from her home country, who persuades her mother to allow him to treat her in New Jersey. All seems well until Anna returns to work and finds that editor-in-chief Tanya Foster, a stylish and driven blonde, has replaced her former assistant with a new assistant editor, Tim Greene, an African American Ivy League graduate who is both aggressive and overly respectful to Anna. Worse yet, with the approval of Tanya and Tim, the sales and marketing teams of Windsor have designed a cover for Bess's book which features a scantily clad couple in a steamy embrace, meant to appeal to fans of urban fiction rather than serious literature. Anna and Bess are both infuriated by this decision, but Tanya is focused on the book's sales, rather than artistic integrity or the opinions of its author and champion.

As the professional relationship between Tanya and Tim grows closer, Anna finds herself marginalized. Tim embraces urban fiction, and is viewed as a more accurate barometer of what African American readers want and are willing to buy than Anna. Tanya views her as an elitist whose tastes differ from those of the average black American reader, due mainly to her Caribbean upbringing under the British colonial system.

The central story is minimally enhanced by the relationships Anna has with her parents, Paul Bishop, and her Caribbean best friend. She comes to view America as a salad with individual ingredients, rather than a melting pot, a land where immigrants are permitted but not embraced as long as they harbor the practices and beliefs of their home countries.

Boundaries is an interesting look at the publishing industry, which is driven by sales figures and run by people focused on the bottom line rather than on the quality of the product. Authors of color are often marginalized and stereotyped, their books restricted to selected imprints and segregated from mainstream literature in "African American Fiction" sections of bookstores. The difficulties faced by immigrants attempting to assimilate into the American workplace and lifestyle has been described in numerous other books; but many readers might be surprised to learn that this includes people of similar racial heritage but different cultural backgrounds. The characters surrounding Anna are far less important to the novel than these central themes, particularly the two-dimensional Paul Bishop. Boundaries ends abruptly, leaving the reader to wonder what will happen to Anna, and whether her story will be continued in a subsequent book.

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