Infinite Country: A Novel - book cover
  • Publisher : Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster
  • Published : 05 Oct 2021
  • Pages : 256
  • ISBN-10 : 1982159472
  • ISBN-13 : 9781982159474
  • Language : English

Infinite Country: A Novel



"A profound, beautiful novel." -People * "Poignant." -BuzzFeed * "A breathtaking story of the unimaginable prices paid for a better life." -Esquire

This "heartbreaking portrait of a family dealing with the realities of migration and separation" (Time) is "a sweeping love story and tragic drama [and] an authentic vision of what the American Dream looks like in a nationalistic country" (Elle).

I often wonder if we are living the wrong life in the wrong country.

Talia is being held at a correctional facility for adolescent girls in the forested mountains of Colombia after committing an impulsive act of violence that may or may not have been warranted. She urgently needs to get out and get back home to Bogotá, where her father and a plane ticket to the United States are waiting for her. If she misses her flight, she might also miss her chance to finally be reunited with her family.

How this family came to occupy two different countries, two different worlds, comes into focus like twists of a kaleidoscope. We see Talia's parents, Mauro and Elena, fall in love in a market stall as teenagers against a backdrop of civil war and social unrest. We see them leave Bogotá with their firstborn, Karina, in pursuit of safety and opportunity in the United States on a temporary visa, and we see the births of two more children, Nando and Talia, on American soil. We witness the decisions and indecisions that lead to Mauro's deportation and the family's splintering-the costs they've all been living with ever since.

Award-winning, internationally acclaimed author Patricia Engel, herself a dual citizen and the daughter of Colombian immigrants, gives voice to all five family members as they navigate the particulars of their respective circumstances. Rich with Bogotá urban life, steeped in Andean myth, and tense with the daily reality of the undocumented in America, Infinite Country "is as much an all-American story as it is a global one" (Booklist, starred review).

Editorial Reviews

"An exceptionally powerful and illuminating story about a Colombian family torn apart by war and migration." -Reese Witherspoon

"Engel movingly captures the shadow lives of undocumented migrants... a profound, beautiful novel." -People Magazine

"[Engel is] a gifted storyteller whose writing shines even in the darkest corners." -The Washington Post

"The prose is serpentine and exciting... [with] intimate and meticulously rendered descriptions of Andean landscapes and mythology, of Colombia's long history of violence... a compulsively readable novel." -New York Times Book Review

"Patricia Engel is a wonder; her novels are marvels of exquisite control and profound and delicately evoked feeling. Infinite Country knocked me out with its elegant and lucid deconstruction of yearning, family, belonging, and sacrifice. This is a book that speaks into the present moment with an oracle's devastating coolness and clarity." -Lauren Groff, author of Florida and Fates and Furies

"A diamond-sharp novel... With stunning sentences, vivid language, and a pace that will leave you breathless, Infinite Country is steeped in myth and rich in both depth and beauty. There's a not a single word misplaced in this book. -The Today Show

"Engel's sweeping novel gives voice to three generations of a Colombian family torn apart by man-made borders... Gorgeously woven through with Andean myths and the bitter realities of undocumented life, Infinite Country tells a breathtaking story of the unimaginable prices paid for a better life." -Esquire

"At once a sweeping love story and tragic drama, Infinite Country… promises to deliver what American Dirt could not: an authentic vision of what the American Dream looks like in a nationalistic country." -Elle

"A gorgeous, moving novel." -New York Post

"Engel's pacing is breathless-she covers three generations in under 200 pages-but just as frequently gives way to heart- and time-stopping moments. Infinite Country is poised to be one of the most stirring page-turners of the year." -A.V. Club

"Clear, moving, and perfectly calibrated, Infinite Country follows the members of one mixed-immigration status family as they navigate dreams, distance, and the bonds of love and memory. Patricia Engel is a stunning writer with astonishing talents." -Lisa Ko, author of The Leavers

"I've admired Engel's writing a long time, and her new book deepened that admiration. An exquisitely told story of family, war...

Readers Top Reviews

C. Perezrenee amygob
Elena and Mauro are a Colombian couple weary of the political and social Colombian landscape. With the coming of their first child, Karina, they decide that better economic opportunities may be found in America— where they enter legally using tourist visas they overstay. Once that decision is made, their lives change irrevocably, for they become illegal aliens and start living on the fringe of the law, continually changing apartments and jobs to avoid capture. Two of their children, Nando and Talia, are born in the United States, thus U.S. citizens by birth, but the rest of the family has a different status they cannot challenge or appeal in case their whereabouts become known and used against them. Infinite Country is an original concoction of the old and the new—Andean myths, travelogue, and contemporary Colombian politics coexisting without annulling the other. However interesting, the novel is infinitely denser than its short 198 pages would suggest, the action taking place over three or four days (via very circuitous 15 years of family history) as the younger child, Talia, escapes a correctional institution for teenage girls, and treks across several Colombian departments (provinces), to make her way to the capital to catch a U.S.-bound plane that reunites her with her mother and siblings. Characters walk a morally gray line at all times but are generally empathetic; the way they react to their plight making them utterly human. However, the author dumped a kitchen sink of nightmare scenarios in their lives, undoubtedly trying to make the topic of illegal immigration more relatable to the masses. No doubt those things happen to most illegal immigrants (and probably many more), but all in the same family? A short story collection ordered by characters and issues would likely have been more on point. In short, the book format somewhat diminishes the impact of the issues at the heart of the illegal immigration debate. The characters are endearing but morally and politically ambiguous, as much so as the authorities who enforce those policies. The takeaway is that there are no winners in that fight.
karen vanek
Beautifully crafted sentences that open two worlds to the reader: Columbia and the US undocumented immigrant experience. Both are revealed for their good and their bad. A worthy read.
Alexis N.
This was definitely a different perspective than I am used to reading and I thought Engel captured what I can only assume to be a common immigrant family's experience really well. I liked how it explored each family members story and tied in Colombian myth and history without over-explaining things. The only thing I didn't think meshed as well as it could've was the siblings' use of first person in their chapters and how that was introduced halfway through. Though I thought their perspectives were essential I just would have changed the tense or introduced it earlier on. I also wish the father's story would be been flushed out a bit more towards the end. Otherwise a phenomenal quick read where I didn't really know how it was going to end the entire time.
Jennifer Hing
An incredible read. The story flows so well, and you are hooked from the first pages. The story is both sad, and true. It leaves you wanting more. As you go back and forth in time, you learn and love these characters so much.
Jill I. Shtulman
“I’ve had borders drawn around me all my life, but I refuse to live as a bordered person.” This is a stunning book about the sheer lunacy and cruelty we engender when we refuse to see others as human beings and resort to viewing them as “the other.” It’s been done before, but perhaps never quite as powerfully as in Patricia Engel’s elegantly written novel Mauro and Elena fall in love, have a daughter Katrina, and immigrate lawfully to Texas in hopes of a better life. They then have a son, Nando, who is born a U.S. citizen. A third baby, Talia, comes along right at the time when Mauro is caught on trumped-up charges and deported back to Colombia. Elena can find menial work and someone to look after her older two, but not the baby. She arranges for Talia to return to her grandmother – and father – in Colombia with the hopes of reuniting. So there is the plot, in a nutshell. One child who is Colombian by birth growing up in a land where she is looked at askance. A son who is born in the U.S. and actually lives in his birth country. And a daughter, a U.S. citizen by birth, who is forced to grow up back in Colombia. And, of course, two parents who love each other but are separated, perhaps permanently. Yet it’s not the plot that drives Infinite Country. It is the artistic risks that Patricia Engel takes and the themes she tackles. Only Talia is given an active, exterior life and only Talia is firmly rooted in the present. The other characters are provided with back stories or internal reflections that are highlighted in spare and sometimes fragmented paragraphs or chapters that reveal a lot. For example, this: “Emigration was a peeling away of the skin. An undoing. You wake each morning and forget where you are, who you are, and when the world outside shows you your reflection, it’s ugly and distorted; you’ve become a scorned, unwanted character.” Just wow. Interspersed with the narrative is Colombian folklore, which provides a mythic framework to provide meaning to the present. The themes are universal: how do we define home? Are we choosing to traffic ourselves when we choose to emigrate? Is leaving home a kind of death or a renewal or can it be both? What are the costs of living in a land where you don’t truly belong and never really know its folklore, customs or extended family? Those who prefer a book with multi-dimensional characters who spearhead the narrative won’t find it here. The themes reign, but the themes are devastatingly presented. The story of Mauro and Elena and their family is a human story and most definitely a universal one. It will make you think and feel.

Short Excerpt Teaser

Chapter One ONE
It was her idea to tie up the nun.

The dormitory lights were cut every night at ten. Locked into their rooms, girls commanded to a cemetery silence before sleep, waking at dawn for morning prayers. The nuns believed silence a weapon, teaching the girls that only with it could they discover the depths of their interior without being servants to the temptations of this world.

To be fair, the nuns were not all terrible. Some, Talia liked very much. She even admired how they managed to turn the condemned penitentiary population into mostly orderly damitas. It was a state facility. A prison school for youth offenders. Not a convent and no longer a parochial school. The lay staff reminded the sisters to aim for secularity, but on those missioned mountains, the nuns ran things as they pleased.

During the day, under the nuns' watch, the girls practiced their downcast gazes. They attended classes, therapy sessions, meditation groups, completed chores uniformed in gray sweats, hair pulled back. Forbidden from gossip and touching, but they did both when out of sight.

At night, in the blackness of their dormitory, they gathered to whisper in shards of windowpane moonlight. When the nuns patrolled the hall outside their room, they became masterful mutes, reading lips, inventing their own sign language, moving quiet as cats, creeping like thieves. They listened for the nuns' footsteps on the level below, sensing vibrations on the wooden floor planks; the search for rule breakers, disruptors their guardians would schedule for punishment at daybreak.

The night of the escape, the girls made purposeful noise so the nun on duty would come tell them to be quiet. Sister Susana was on the nightshift. There were many latecomer nuns at the facility leftover from some other failed life. The rumor was Sister Susana was married until her husband divorced her because she couldn't have children.

The plan originated with Talia. Or maybe her father deserved the credit. That afternoon she was given rare permission to phone him from the administrative office. Family contact was restricted, since the staff believed they could be a girl's worst influence. Talia hoped to hear Mauro say he found a way to free her, have her sentence lifted. Paid a fine or convinced one of the rich residents of the apartment building where he worked as a janitor to call in a favor on her behalf.

One never knows who might be listening, especially in a quasi jail for minors, some of whom were murderers on the verge. Talia and Mauro were careful with their words. He'd tried everything, he said. There was nothing more he could do. She understood. Liberating herself from the prison, and the country, would be up to her.

With the help of another girl, she spent an hour ripping bedsheets, twisting them tight as wire, thin as rope. She counted to one thousand in the darkness, then gave the signal for the other girls to start shouting, "Fire! Fire! Fire!"

Sister Susana appeared in the doorway. Talia waited to catch her from behind with a pillowcase over the head. They'd cut breathing holes because they weren't trying to kill anyone, only to paralyze with fright. Talia held the nun while the others tied her to a chair with the shredded sheets, her breath hot on Talia's hands as another girl shoved a sock between her teeth to gag screams.

When Talia arrived to the prison school a month earlier, Sister Susana had called her into her office and told the fifteen-year-old she'd studied her life, as if that file of police jottings and psychological assessments on her desk could reveal anything that mattered.

"You're not like other girls here," she began.

Yes, I am, Talia wanted to say. She didn't want to be singled out, treated as an exception if it meant putting the other girls down.

"I believe it was your desire for justice that led you to do an awful thing. But you badly injured a man. You could have blinded him."

A pause. The rattle of voices in the cafeteria down the hall. She knew Sister Susana was waiting for a response. A denial perhaps. More likely an admission of guilt. The nuns were always scavenging for remorse.

"Do you want to change? With faith and discipline anything is possible."

Talia was not stupid, so she said yes.

The girls locked Sister Susana in their room with the same key she used against them each night. Nobody would look for her or for the girls until morning. The sisters and lay staff were in charge of their correction and safety. There were ...