Review: Infinite Country by Patricia Engel

Infinite Country by Patricia Engel

Publisher:  Scribner

Publication date:  2021

Source:  Purchased

For readers of Valeria Luiselli and Edwidge Danticat, an urgent and lyrical novel about a Colombian family fractured by deportation, offering an intimate perspective on an experience that so many have endured—and are enduring right now.

At the dawn of the new millennium, Colombia is a country devastated by half a century of violence. Elena and Mauro are teenagers when they meet, their blooming love an antidote to the mounting brutality of life in Bogotá. Once their first daughter is born, and facing grim economic prospects, they set their sights on the United States.

They travel to Houston and send wages back to Elena’s mother, all the while weighing whether to risk overstaying their tourist visas or to return to Bogotá. As their family expands, and they move again and again, their decision to ignore their exit dates plunges the young family into the precariousness of undocumented status, the threat of discovery menacing a life already strained. When Mauro is deported, Elena, now tasked with caring for their three small children, makes a difficult choice that will ease her burdens but splinter the family even further.

Award-winning, internationally acclaimed author Patricia Engel, herself the daughter of Colombian immigrants and a dual citizen, gives voice to Mauro and Elena, as well as their children, Karina, Nando, and Talia—each one navigating a divided existence, weighing their allegiance to the past, the future, to one another, and to themselves. Rich with Bogotá urban life, steeped in Andean myth, and tense with the daily reality for the undocumented in America, Infinite Country is the story of two countries and one mixed-status family—for whom every triumph is stitched with regret and every dream pursued bears the weight of a dream deferred.

“What was it about the country that kept everyone hostage to its fantasy? The previous month, on its own soil, an American man went to his job at a plant and gunned down fourteen coworkers, and last spring alone there were four different school shootings. A nation at war with itself, yet people still spoke of it as some kind of paradise.”

In Infinite Country we meet Talia, a teenager who has been committed to a young offenders institution.  her family is split across two countries; her dad is in Columbia while her mum and siblings are in America.  Talia has a plane ticket to America, but to get there she must escape from the detention centre and race across the country.

This is a story about family, immigration and the cruelty of deportation.  An emotional story tackling some difficult topics.  The writing is accomplished and engaging, however for me there seemed to be some kind of barrier that prevented me from clicking with the characters.  I felt no connection to them, and though I could empathise with the emotional aspects of the story, it left me feeling a little dead inside.  How melodramatic of me!  I don’t mean to say that this is a terrible book – I did enjoy reading it and actually rated it 4 stars, but I was hoping for a fiver here, and it was just lacking that final elusive element for me.

4 stars

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