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Infinite Country


Infinite Country

From award-winning author Patricia Engel comes INFINITE COUNTRY, a breathtaking portrait of five members of a family torn apart by the borders between countries, the push and pull of their homes, and the complicated ties that bind them.

Although she was born in the United States and carries with her the privilege of American citizenship, 15-year-old Talia has been raised --- as long as she can remember --- in Colombia by her grandmother, Perla, and her father, Mauro. Her older siblings, Karina and Nando, live in New Jersey with their mother, Elena, who works hard to support not only the children she sees every day, but also the one she left behind in Colombia. Finally, after years of painful separation, Talia is going to make the journey to the land of her birth to reunite with her mother, meet her siblings and take advantage of the opportunities available to her. There’s just one problem: Talia is being held in a correctional facility far from her father (and her plane ticket) in the mountains of Colombia. Desperate and resourceful, she escapes and begins the long trek home to Mauro, all the while preparing herself to say goodbye to the country she has called home for nearly 15 years.

"Engel’s gaze is intensely intimate but never voyeuristic, and her prose, while sparse and digestible, is full of poignant observations, especially on the American dream and how far reality has strayed from it."

In alternating chapters, Engel introduces readers to Talia’s father, tracking his teenage love affair with Elena and the choices that took them north to the United States and eventually ended in their involuntary separation. The Colombia of their time was one of civil war and social unrest, when murder and theft were part of the fabric of society. Young Mauro, son of a cruel, cold woman, is less naive than sheltered Elena, and better able to see the danger lurking in Bogotá’s streets. As their love grows, so too does his fervor for something more, a life where security and opportunity are within reach and not confined to dreams and wishes. When Elena learns that she is pregnant, the two hatch a plan to leave their homeland and enter the United States on a temporary visa.

As Talia makes her way to Bogotá, and, in a separate timeline, Mauro and Elena build a family, Engel highlights for her readers the storied history of Colombia: political upheavals, changing economies, and the enduring spirit of its people, who have learned to be resilient and strong. Talia, only 15, looks much older and often attracts the attention of unscrupulous men, but she soon meets a motorcyclist who agrees to take her as far as he can. Finally, able to let down her defenses, she begins to question the true meaning of home, whether it is right or moral to trade one home for another, and where her heart will end up when she finally crosses that unimaginable border.

INFINITE COUNTRY begins with Talia’s story, but it was the tale of Mauro and Elena that stole the spotlight for me. Every time the couple begins to put down roots, the systemic inequalities of the United States threaten to demolish them. Mauro works tirelessly, but struggles with alcohol addiction. After many starts and stops and numerous setbacks, they make the decision to stay in the United States after their visas have expired. Although they are endlessly cautious and law-abiding, a wrong move from Mauro puts him on the radar of the police, who waste no time in revealing his immigration status to ICE, which then deports him. Elena is now alone in America with three children, only two of whom were born on American soil.

Alternating between Talia’s story and the unraveling of her parents, Engel unpacks not only the changing landscape of Colombia’s capital, but also the harsh realities faced by immigrants --- both undocumented and not --- when attempting to build a life for themselves in the United States. Talia’s family is in a particularly complicated situation, but Engel focuses on how it affects each member: Elena and her eldest daughter, living in the United States “illegally”; Talia, born in America but forced to live elsewhere; and Mauro, once deported and now facing the possibility that once his beloved daughter reaches the land of her birth, he may never see her or his wife and other children again.

Engel’s gaze is intensely intimate but never voyeuristic, and her prose, while sparse and digestible, is full of poignant observations, especially on the American dream and how far reality has strayed from it. She is sharp and unflinching in her criticisms of America, a fact that may (unfortunately) turn away more conservative individuals. But I have faith that her gorgeously drawn and perfectly realized characters will awaken these readers to the need for reform and change.

Rich with ripped-from-the-headlines depictions of life for undocumented peoples in the United States and bursting with a lyrical love for life in Colombia, INFINITE COUNTRY is, at its heart, a story about fractures born of dreams, regrets and small triumphs, and the ways that humans have always endured in spite of them. Perfect for readers of Isabel Allende and Valeria Luiselli, this book offers readers from all walks of life a searingly timely perspective on the challenges faced by those in pursuit of a dream.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on March 5, 2021

Infinite Country
by Patricia Engel

  • Publication Date: October 5, 2021
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Avid Reader Press/Simon & Schuster
  • ISBN-10: 1982159472
  • ISBN-13: 9781982159474