Your journey begins in the Central African Republic. Here, as in many African countries, disease runs rampant, the air is tense with violence, and women are severely oppressed. Susi Wyss opens her coming-of-age story by introducing us to a thirteen year old girl learning to fend for herself in a male-dominated society—an appropriate beginning to a collection of stories revealing the harsh realities of the world and an eternal truth that can be found at every latitude: we have not come as far as we’d like to think.
Travel 6,205 miles southeast and you’ll find yourself in Argentina, South America, a restless country of citizens suffering and submitting to silent despair, a place with cities that have 49 murders a week and a kidnapping every 24 hours. Here, you live in Richard A. Ballou’s story “A Difficult Thing, a Beautiful Comfort” with a missing main character and an uncertain ending. The author notes, almost mournfully, that the country breeds men with missing pieces:
. . . there are times that Portenos are simply consumed. They do not run away or do themselves in, they are not kidnapped or murdered, they don’t by meaningless accident fall off a break wall into the sea. Their bodies never turn up because their source has reclaimed them, through some unfathomable wound that swallows them whole.Next you experience a cynical drug addict exploring Montreal, the negative perceptions cast on church mission trips working through Costa Rica, a metamorphosing American in Cuba, and the gritty backlash of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans before you reach another destination surprisingly included in this anthology: Antarctica.
Perhaps one of the most fascinating and eye-opening stories in this collection occurs at the bottom of the world, in a dry, cold desert hundreds of miles from medical facilities and basic civilization. Titled “The Ecstatic Cry” for the call emperor penguins make when reuniting with their mates, the author, Midge Raymond, writes about an indifferent university researcher with an obsession for saving one of the last remaining pure habitats in the world. The main character notes, sadly:
For all that stays the same here, Antarctica is constantly changing. Every year, the continent doubles in size as the ocean freezes around it; the ice shelf shifts, glaciers calve off [ . . . ] land once desolate now sees thousands of tourists a season. But it remains, to me, a place of illusion; when I’m here I still feel comfortably isolated, though increasingly I am not.Then walk through Chairman Mao’s memorial in China with a passionate American tourist before going northwest to Iran, where a woman recalls experiencing the now broken country before the revolution of 1979. Face a day in the life of an Israeli and pretend you aren’t surrounded by enemies and don’t have to spare a thought for suicide bombers and shrapnel. Understand the woes of marriage in Kazakhstan, a battle against cancer in Russia, the loneliness that comes from inspiring others into action in France. Everywhere Stories is a true human journey, a revelation for those seeking understanding of the world around them.
As the editor, Clifford Garstang, notes in his introduction, the world is a dangerous place. The routine and relative safety cocooned around our daily lives can often help us forget this, owing to our belief that places like those in this anthology are far off and so removed from us that it can be hard to understand them. But the world isn’t as big as it seems, and we all have a lot more in common than we might think.