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

Joe Meno (Author)


"The most important book I've read in a long time" (Sigrid Nunez), this harrowing true story of two young men from Ghana and their quest for asylum highlights not only the unjust political system of their homeland, but the chaos of the United States' failing immigration system.

Long before their chance meeting at a Minneapolis bus station, Ghanaian asylum seekers Seidu Mohammed and Razak Iyal had already crossed half the world in search of a new home. Seidu, who identifies as bisexual, lived under constant threat of exposure and violence in a country where same-sex acts are illegal. Razak's life was also threatened after corrupt officials contrived to steal his rightful inheritance.

Forced to flee their homeland, both men embarked on separate odysseys through the dangerous jungles and bureaucracies of South, Central, and North America. Like generations of asylum seekers before, they presented themselves legally at the U.S. border, hoping for sanctuary. Instead they were imprisoned in private detention facilities, released only after their asylum pleas were denied. Fearful of returning to Ghana, Seidu and Razak saw no choice but to attempt one final border crossing. Their journey north to Canada in the harsh, unforgiving winter proved more tragic than anything they had experienced before.

Based on extensive interviews, Joe Meno's intimate, novelistic account builds upon the international media attention Seidu and Razak's story has already received, highlighting the harrowing journey of asylum seekers everywhere while adding dimension to one of the greatest humanitarian concerns facing the world.

Product Details

$26.00  $23.92
Counterpoint LLC
Publish Date
June 02, 2020
6.4 X 1.3 X 9.1 inches | 1.3 pounds

Earn by promoting books

Earn money by sharing your favorite books through our Affiliate program.

Become an affiliate

About the Author

JOE MENO is a fiction writer and journalist who lives in Chicago. He is the winner of the Nelson Algren Literary Award, a Pushcart Prize, and the Great Lakes Book Award and was a finalist for the Story Prize. The bestselling author of seven novels and two short story collections, including Marvel and a Wonder, The Boy Detective Fails, and Hairstyles of the Damned, he is a professor in the English and creative writing department at Columbia College Chicago. Find out more at


Praise for Between Everything and Nothing

"Meno, a professor of creative writing and prolific fiction writer, tracks the grueling journeys of his complexly rendered protagonists, Razak and Seidu . . . The author portrays them convincingly as hapless pawns in a massive explosion of migration, countered in the Americas with greed and cruelty . . . The narrative is dispiriting, as Meno documents the Kafkaesque, for-profit reality of today's immigration morass, but Meno writes deftly, with a fine sense of detail and place, bringing an all-too-common story to life. A well-paced and engaging account, highly relevant to current political debates." --Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"A suspenseful account of two Ghanaian refugees' quest for political asylum . . . Meno's well-written story of survival and friendship puts individual faces on the plight of millions of refugees around the world. Readers will be equal parts outraged and inspired by this novelistic account." --Publishers Weekly

"The most important book I've read in a long time, Between Everything and Nothing vividly dramatizes what the world needs to know about the tragic effects of our corrupt and dehumanizing immigration system. Though harrowing, the story of Seidu Mohammed and Razak Iyal is also deeply inspiring, revealing how two powerless but fiercely courageous asylum seekers, battered by years of injustice and cruelty, held fast to their religious faith, their dignity, and their love and hope for humanity." --Sigrid Nunez, author of The Friend

Praise for Marvel and a Wonder

Winner of the Society of Midland Authors Award for the Region's Best Books (Adult Fiction)
Named a Booklist Editors' Choice
Longlisted for the American Library Association's Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction
Selected as a Midwest Connections pick by the Midwest Independent Booksellers Association

"[Marvel and a Wonder] is a unique take on the generation gap between a Korean war vet and his sixteen-year-old grandson, exploring themes like faith, sacrifice and family . . . With a bit of crime, tragedy and even love." --MTV News

"In this ambitious epic, a man and his grandson embark on a cross-country journey to find a missing horse." --Chicago Magazine

"The book draws comparisons to William Faulkner, Cormac McCarthy, and Toni Morrison. It's at once a story about two people and an exploration of the past, present, and future of the country . . . As the fate of the horse, of Jim Falls, of Quentin--of America!--becomes more perilous, the book picks up speed. The story is operating on different levels--as a family story, an epic, and in the end a page-turner--but they remain skillfully balanced." --Chicago Reader

"An emotionally honest exploration of the human need for connection." --Newcity

"Joe Meno's hauntingly lovely, richly detailed Marvel and a Wonder examines the contentious and, eventually, tender relationship between seventy-one-year-old widower Jim Falls and his teenage grandson Quentin." --Hypertext

"Wonder explodes into a breakneck thriller as grandfather and grandson try to recover the horse, and run into characters even more nefarious than the horse thief." --Capital Times

"A Moby Dick for Middle America." --Wisconsin State Journal

"[The novel] pays testament to human persistence, in the persons of grandfather and grandson, as they carry on to retrieve what's theirs. Meno excels at setting a scene, and most chapters begin with a short, single paragraph, almost poetic in its description of place. One particularly vivid scene captures [one character] crawling around in broken glass on his kitchen floor, scratching up change. It's this kind of tragic vision that makes Marvel And A Wonder something of a miracle." --Santa Fe New Mexican

"The grit is palpable in Joe Meno's Marvel and a Wonder . . . reminiscent of Gran Torino . . . in the same vein as Cormac McCarthy." --Des Moines City View

"Though Meno crafts a dramatic arc that is both compelling and approachable, his true stride is found in the way small moments are expanded to feel monumental through simple dialogue or the way Quentin actively watches his grandfather breathe, just to make sure he is still alive . . . Though characters have a layer of complexity elevated above everyday experiences, Meno includes small moments of intense, capital H humanity." --Columbia Chronicle

"In his gritty new novel, Marvel and a Wonder, Chicago writer Joe Meno has reinvented himself again, exploring the haunting human and natural landscapes of the rural Midwest in the vein of the Coen brothers' Fargo and No Country for Old Men . . . Bleak and beautiful." --Gapers Block

"In telling the story of Jim and Quentin, Meno broadens the conversation about the winners and losers of the global economy . . . Both [protagonist] Jim Falls and Marvel and a Wonder seem like a reimagining of those great old depression era novels by John Steinbeck and William Faulkner and Meridel Le Sueur. The book makes visible the typically invisible victims of unjust economic policies. It makes these characters people--flawed and beautiful." --The Millions

"The always-wonderful Joe Meno is back with a many layered tale . . . This is a departure from Meno's usual novels, and borders on Cormac McCarthy territory." --Book Riot

"I've long adored Joe Meno's novels, which seamlessly blend magical realism with the grittiest elements of reality . . . If you like novels that are both moving and exciting, then don't miss this one." --Literary Hub

"Faulkner-ian epic for the contemporary age . . . [Meno] draws on the grave themes and austere styles of writers like Cormac McCarthy and Daniel Woodrell to offer a mix of biblical allegories, tinder-dry prose, and noble characters trying to survive in a wretched world . . . The novel's prose is marvelous is its spare, convincing grit while the story's themes of family, redemption, sacrifice, and faith echo the plays of Sam Shepard at times . . . A grandiose, atmospheric portrait of Middle America in all its damaged glory." --Kirkus Reviews

"The latest by Meno is a compelling mash-up of magic and the absurd with the grittiness of a world inhabited by punks, thieves, and losers, as a grandfather and his grandson take a road trip through 1990s rural America in search of their stolen horse . . . This is a provocative reflection on the lives of the disenfranchised in the waning days of the 20th century, with a bittersweet resolution that will resonate with readers." --Publishers Weekly

"A remarkable book; Meno deftly turns the American Dream onto its ass but displays facets of Americans that are so true that it will make your heart hurt." --Library Journal

"Meno has written a book that honors the values of old men and exposes their prejudices, where the young transcend their apathy to claim a fractured future." --Foreword Reviews, Reviewers' Choice

"While Meno writes in lush sentences, evoking authors like William Faulkner, his plot feels akin to Cormac McCarthy . . . A fitting addition to the canon of books about hard men and their relationship to nature. Discover: A pastoral novel of family, desperation and a horse like no other." --Shelf Awareness

"Just finished Marvel and a Wonder . . . It's all I did for two days. Amazing." --Susan Straight, author of In the Country of Women

"Joe Meno writes with poise and wit and stunning amounts of empathy. What a beautiful story. What a lovely book." --Victor LaValle, author of The Devil in Silver

"Both sprawling and intimate, Marvel and a Wonder is a vivid portrait of Heartland America, and infuses its array of characters with humor, empathy, and insight. I've long been an admirer of Joe Meno's work, and this is his most ambitious book yet." --Dan Chaon, author of Await Your Reply

Praise for Office Girl

"Wonderful storytelling panache . . . Mr. Meno excels at capturing the way that budding love can make two people feel brave and freshly alive to their surroundings . . . the story of the relationship has a sweet simplicity." --The Wall Street Journal

"Along with PBRs, flannels, and thick-framed glasses, this Millennial Franny and Zooey is an instant hipster staple." --Marie Claire

"Odile and Jack are . . . two characters in search of authentic emotion . . . their pas de deux is . . . dynamic." --Chicago Tribune

"Meno's book is an honest look at the isolation of being a creative person in your twenties living in a city . . . Cody Hudson's hand-drawn illustrations, which relate to the text only laterally, add a charm akin to the small doodles that break up long New Yorker articles. The photos by Todd Baxter add a third level to the package, helping to make Meno's book feel more like an artwork." --The Daily Beast

"A beguiling and slyly disquieting storyteller, Meno forges surprising connections between deep emotion and edgy absurdity, self-conscious hipness and timeless metaphysics . . . Meno's charming, melancholy, frank and droll love story wrapped around an art manifesto both celebrates those who question and protest the established order and contemplates the dilemmas that make family, creativity, ambition and love perpetually confounding and essential." --Kansas City Star

"A wispy, bittersweet (emphasis on the bitter, not the sweet) romance, Office Girl is the story of Odile and Jack, a pair of alienated twentysomething bohemians whose artistic ambitions are being worn away by one soul-killing call-center job after another in Chicago." --Chicago Sun-Times

"Office Girl is a bittersweet little love story framed by Bill Clinton's 1999 impeachment trial and the turn of the millennium . . . By letting his characters be emotionally vulnerable, even shallow or trite--which is to say . . . real--Meno supplies an off-kilter, slightly inappropriate answer to the Hollywood rom-com." --Chicago Reader

"Meno's books have become increasingly liminal and idiosyncratic. In this latest, it feels as if Meno has written the book he's been wanting to write for years, combining all of those classic elements of his previous work: the stop-and-start of youthful inertia, the painful purity of romance, the way childhood informs (i.e. wrecks) us as adults and a direct prose cut into vignettes and montage." --Time Out Chicago

"Office Girl might be Joe Meno's breakthrough novel. Set in 1999, Office Girl tells the story of a pair of young, intelligent drifters who decide to start their own art movement. It's a stripped-down experience of a novel which means Meno's crystalline prose has a chance to shine." --The Stranger

"Office Girl is a relatively simple love story: You know most of the beats and understand from the beginning how the story needs to end; the pleasure comes from the way Meno hits those beats, how he manages his characters and moments." --Philadelphia City Paper

"A lithe, winking take on the boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl cliche, Meno's newest novel is like Perks of Being a Wallflower for the 20-something set--and just like that iconic novel of creatives-in-crisis, this one is quirky, clever, and full of bitten tongues and youthful dreaming." --Flavorwire

"Office Girl shelves neatly into the anti-establishment, punk-rock canon Meno created with books like his breakthrough, Hairstyles of the Damned." --A.V. Club

"Mr. Meno approaches his title character's potentially depressing combination of disadvantageous circumstances and poor choices with sufficient aesthetic distance to find levity amid the angst. And while Office Girl is a quick and easy read, it is not insubstantial." --New York Journal of Book

"I was completely charmed by its boy-meets-quirky girl romance. Office Girl is unabashedly earnest . . . Today, when it seems that most media is hellbent on constantly reflecting on and reinventing our childhood and adolescence, it's refreshing to read a novel that can be nostalgic without being ironic." --Grantland

"Joe Meno's Office Girl draws the awkward love story of two twenty-somethings with grace and empathy in this exceptional novel." --Largehearted Boy

"Wistful, heartbreaking, and melancholy, a sneakily tight manuscript that gets better and better the farther you read." --Chicago Center for Literature and Photography

"The book is a love story but one with a different twist on your typical boy-meets-girl, then boy-loses-girl story . . . Joe Meno has done a remarkable job of capturing an age old story, in a brand new way. This is a bright read." --California Literary Review

"The talented Chicago-based Meno has composed a gorgeous little indie romance, circa 1999 . . . When things Get Weird as things do when we're young, Meno is refreshingly honest in portraying lowest lows and not just the innocent highs. A sweetheart of a novel, complete with a hazy ending." --Kirkus Reviews

"Fresh and sharply observed, Office Girl is a love story on bicycles, capturing the beauty of individual moments and the magic hidden in everyday objects and people. Joe Meno will make you stop and notice the world. And he will make you wonder." --Hannah Tinti, author of The Good Thief

"I'm terrible, I bail on most books. Recent ones that delighted me the whole way through were . . . Office Girl by Joe Meno." --Maria Semple, author of Where'd You Go, Bernadette

Praise for The Great Perhaps

"Meno is thinking hard about why the world is the way it is and about where hope for change might reasonably lie." --Jonathan Dee, New York Times Book Review

"Meno masterfully, and meaningfully, conflates the fantastic with the everyday. . . . Tender, funny, spooky, and gripping." --Donna Seaman, Booklist

"The wisest, most humane and transcendent novel on the contemporary family since The Corrections. . . . A marvelous book." --Irvine Welsh, author of Trainspotting

"A darkly funny, lyrical, and shrewdly observant chronicle of a family on the verge of a nervous breakdown." --Tom Perrotta, author of The Abstinence Teacher

Praise for Demons in the Spring

"An inspired collection of 20 stories, brilliant in its command of tone and narrative perspective...Creativity and empathy mark the collection . . . Illustrations enhance the already vivid storytelling." --Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"Spanning worlds, generations, cultures and environments, each of Meno's short stories in this stellar collection explores depression, loneliness and insanity in the world . . ." --Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Eclectic, funny, constantly surprising--these are the things a short story collection should be allowed to be, and Joe Meno's Demons in the Spring absolutely is . . . a rich, unforgettable stew of a book." --Dave Eggers, author of The Parade

Praise for The Boy Detective Fails

"Comedic, imaginative, empathic, atmospheric, archetypal, and surpassingly sweet, Meno's finely calibrated fantasy investigates the precincts of grief, our longing to combat chaos with reason, and the menace and magic concealed within everyday life." --Booklist (starred review)

"Mood is everything here, and Meno tunes it like a master . . . A full-tilt collision of wish-fulfillment and unrequited desires that's thrilling, yet almost unbearably sad." --Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

Praise for Bluebirds Used to Croon in the Choir

Winner of 2006 The Society of Midland Authors Adult Fiction Award

"Edgy and interesting, with a fine blend of the dark and the absurd." --Publishers Weekly

"Musical tales of love and loss with hardly a word wasted." --Kirkus Reviews

"This new collection from music journalist, novelist, and playwright Meno is every bit as poignant, powerful, insightful, and imaginative as his gritty debut novel, Tender as Hellfire. Be prepared to laugh and cry simultaneously." --Library Journal

Praise for Hairstyles of the Damned

A selection of the Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Program

"Captures both the sweetness and sting of adolescence with unflinching honesty." --Entertainment Weekly

"Sensitive, well-observed, often laugh-out-loud funny . . . You won't regret a moment of the journey." --Chicago Tribune

"Filled with references to dozens of bands and mix-tape set lists, the book's heart and soul is driven by a teenager's life-changing discovery of punk's social and political message . . . Meno's alter ego, Brian Oswald, is a modern-day Holden Caulfield . . . It's a funny, sweet, and, at times, hard-hitting story with a punk vibe." --Mary Houlihan, Chicago Sun-Times

"Captures the loose, fun, recklessness of midwestern punk."

"Meno's language is rhythmic and honest, expressing things proper English never could. And you've got to hand it to the author, who pulled off a very good trick: The book is punk rock. It's not just punk rock. It's not just about punk rock; it embodies the idea of punk rock; it embodies the idea of punk--it's pissed off at authority, it won't groom itself properly, and it irritates. Yet its rebellious spirit is inspiring and right on the mark." --SF Weekly

"Joe Meno writes with the energy, honesty, and emotional impact of the best punk rock. From the opening sentence to the very last word, Hairstyles of the Damned held me in his grip." --Jim DeRogatis, pop music critic, Chicago Sun-Times

"Funny and charming and sad and real. The adults are sparingly yet poignantly drawn, especially the fathers, who slip through without saying much but make a profound impression." --Chicago Journal

"Meno gives his proverbial coming-of-age tale a punk-rock edge, as seventeen-year-old Chicagoan Brian Oswald tries to land his first girlfriend . . . Meno ably explores Brian's emotional uncertainty and his poignant youthful search for meaning . . . His gabby, heartfelt, and utterly believable take on adolescence strikes a winning chord." --Publishers Weekly

"A funny, hard-rocking first-person tale of teenage angst and discovery." --Booklist

"Joe Meno knows Chicago's south side the way Jane Goodall knew chimps and apes--which is to say, he really knows it. He also knows about the early '90s, punk rock, and awkward adolescence. Best of all, he knows the value of entertainment. Hairstyles of the Damned is proof positive." --John McNally, author of The Book of Ralph