Between Everything and Nothing: The Journey of Seidu Mohammed and Razak Iyal and the Quest for Asylum

Between Everything and Nothing is an urgent and humane page-turner, and an exposé to weep over. Novelist and journalist Joe Meno's vivid work of immigration reportage traces two Ghanaian refugees' separate treks across South and Central America, and then into the bureaucratic limbo of the United States' overwhelmed, for-profit detention centers.

After thousands of miles of being preyed upon by thieves and bribe-hungry officials, Razak Iyal and Seidu Mohammed both applied for amnesty at the U.S. border. Both then lost months or years caught in a system that demands asylum seekers produce evidence that they have "credible fear" of returning to their homelands. They would face certain violence if deported, but the system offers little opportunity to gather such evidence, especially when it costs refugees thousands of dollars to retain an attorney.

Meno's novelistic approach emphasizes the men's fear, determination and bouts with despair, following both from their Ghanaian youth. Their journey of survival crosses jungles and borders, up to the unlikely moment, in December 2016, when they first encounter each other in a Minnesota bus station in the middle of the night, as both men light out for Canada. Together, they then set out into a snowstorm. Meno (Marvel and a Wonder) summons the cold, the loneliness and the unfathomable will to live as both men press on, even as the border patrol's spotlights circle and frostbite sets in. For all its horrors, though, Between Everything and Nothing at heart stands as a vital portrait of an inhuman system and the desperate souls that it crushes. --Alan Scherstuhl, freelance writer and editor

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