Summary and book reviews of Infinite Country by Patricia Engel

Infinite Country

by Patricia Engel

Infinite Country by Patricia Engel X
Infinite Country by Patricia Engel
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  • Published:
    Feb 2021, 208 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Karen Lewis
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About this Book

Book Summary

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.

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 in the north.

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. And all the while, the metronome ticks: Will Talia make it to Bogotá in time? And if she does, can she bring herself to trade the solid facts of her father and life in Colombia for the distant vision of her mother and siblings in America?

Rich with Bogotá urban life, steeped in Andean myth, and tense with the daily reality of 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.

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...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Infinite Country begins with Talia's restraint of a prison school nun, her time at the correctional facility a punishment for committing an even more viscerally violent attack. Think about Talia's decision to throw hot oil on the man who killed the cat and how this choice surfaces at various points. Reflect also on the sentence, "Talia considered how people who do horrible things can be victims, and how victims can be people who do horrible things" (page 8). What role does moral ambivalence play in the novel?
  2. For Mauro and Elena's family of five, the concept of "home" is a fluid one, distinct to each character and dependent on time and place. Choose a character and chart their relationship to Colombia and to the United States. Does it ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

By engaging elements of indigenous myth, the author makes a case for the notion that human civilization is much wider and deeper than current political borders describe. The narrative jumps around in time to explore backstory, including the romantic courtship of Talia's parents. This story may sound familiar because thousands—actually, millions—of people are affected by the pressures driving global migration, which often lead to some form of separation. This novel, focused on parents unable to cross the border legally and siblings coming of age in mixed-status families, is an important addition to immigration literature...continued

Full Review (687 words).

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(Reviewed by Karen Lewis).

Media Reviews

BookPage
An intriguing, compact tale, rife with both real-life implications and spiritual significance...Engel does a marvelous job of rendering these characters as individuals, each with a unique story.

New York Times
The prose is serpentine and exciting as it takes the scenic route to nowhere. There is a compliment in that. Her writing sets out to be majestic, and it is, like an overflowing soufflé...This is a compulsively readable novel that will make you feel the oxytocin of comfort and delusion. The ending reads like child-of-immigrant fan fiction. I’d hire Engel to ghostwrite my nightmares.

Washington Post
A gifted storyteller whose writing shines even in the darkest corners, Engel understands that the threat of violence is a constant in people’s lives and that emotional acts of abuse can be as harmful as physical ones. In Infinite Country, she focuses on the psychological injury that results when families are 'split as if by an ax' for political or economic reasons.

Elle
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.

Esquire
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.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Engel's vital story of a divided Colombian family is a book we need to read...The rare immigrant chronicle that is as long on hope as it is on heartbreak.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
[O]ustanding...Engel's sharp, unflinching narrative teems with insight and dazzles with a confident, slyly sophisticated structure. This is an impressive achievement.

Booklist (starred review)
The immigrant's story might be well-traveled ground, but Engel constructs a layered narrative outlining how the weight of every seemingly minor choice systematically cements into a crushing predicament...Lively folktales of the Muisca peoples punctuate Engel's remarkable novel as it illuminates the true costs of living in the shadows. Told by a chorus of voices and perspectives, this is as much an all-American story as it is a global one.

Author Blurb Lauren Groff, author of Florida and Fates and Furies
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.

Author Blurb Lisa Ko, author of The Leavers
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.

Author Blurb R.O. Kwon, author of The Incendiaries
Infinite Country is a wonder, and Patricia Engel is a magician. Epic yet exquisitely private, a book to make you marvel.

Author Blurb Luis Alberto Urrea, author of House of Broken Angels and The Devil's Highway
Patricia Engel has an elegant voice. But that finesse has a way of making the shocks and surprises in her fiction more stunning. Infinite Country is her most satisfying work. You won't be sorry. Well, you will be sorry when it ends.

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Beyond the Book

The Muisca

The Sun Temple of Sogamoso In Patricia Engel's novel Infinite Country, several of the main characters draw inspiration from their Muisca ancestors and legends. The Muisca, also known as the Chibcha, are an indigenous civilization that thrived in present-day Colombia before Europeans colonized the area. Bogotá, Colombia's capital city, is situated on an ancient Muisca settlement known as Bacatá in the Chibcha language.

Traces of human existence dating back more than 12,500 years have been found in caves on the Bogotá savanna, including flint and bone tools, remains of animals such as the mastodon and petroglyphs carved into stone walls. But scholars generally agree that the group known as the Muisca migrated into the area much later, with signs ...

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