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Infinite Country

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Goodreads Choice Award
Nominee for Best Fiction (2021)
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.

256 pages, Paperback

First published March 2, 2021

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About the author

Patricia Engel

18 books802 followers
Patricia Engel is the author of Infinite Country, a New York Times Bestseller and Reese's Book Club pick; The Veins of the Ocean, winner of the Dayton Literary Peace Prize; It’s Not Love, It’s Just Paris, winner of the International Latino Book Award; and Vida, a finalist for the Pen/Hemingway and Young Lions Fiction Awards, New York Times Notable Book, and winner of Colombia’s national book award, the Premio Biblioteca de Narrativa Colombiana. She is a recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. Her stories appear in The Best American Short Stories, The Best American Mystery Stories, The O. Henry Prize Stories, and elsewhere. Born to Colombian parents, Patricia teaches creative writing at the University of Miami. 

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 4,586 reviews
Profile Image for Jenny Lawson.
Author 12 books16.8k followers
January 13, 2021
This book is very good and I'm glad I read it. I had to put it down a lot because of the amount of sexual assault though and I wish I'd known to read it when I was feeling a little less brittle so I'm letting you know that. If that's a trigger for you then maybe wait and read it when you feel strong.
Profile Image for Melissa.
426 reviews36 followers
November 12, 2020
I finished this book in tears because wow ... this book took my breath away. This story gripped my heart from the beginning. The way the author entwined Andean myths and legends of Colombia into the story made the story itself that much more special. I had to do a little research into these myths because I wasn’t familiar and I encourage you to do the same. The heartache and hope written in these pages is something that resonates with so many of us who have left or fled from our countries. Leaving people behind that you love not knowing if you’ll ever see them again is a trauma that scars you forever. Being separated by man made borders and papers that determine your worth is a pain that sets into your bones that you learn to live with but is always there as a constant reminder of what has been given up.
Profile Image for s.penkevich.
733 reviews5,007 followers
October 10, 2021
We’re all migrants here on earth.

Immigrants have always been the targets of aggression and political discourse. This has been all the more heightened in the past few years as the recent government administration doubled down on the deportations and family separations of previous presidents and weaponized fear of immigration for political gain. The framing has been atrocious and has only furthered violence upon people simply trying to make their way in the world. Infinite Country by Patricia Engel centers the political narrative as the human struggle of a family from Bogota as they experience the anxieties, aggressions and alienations of living in the United States without official documentation as if this somehow diminished their existence. This is a really important book that takes many of the major talking points about immigration and citizenship and delivers it in an engrossing narrative to shed light on the life of families such as the ones here. While the mechanics of the novel don’t always work and some of it reads as rather awkward shoehorning, I’m glad this book exists as it does a very good job of expressing it’s purpose. This would be an ideal book club choice to dive into the conversations we all need to be having and will hopefully direct readers to other books on the topic (I read this alongside the nonfiction work The Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio and would highly recommend doing so as well). While clumsy in execution this is a heartfelt and emotional novel that tackles big important issues through a cast of well-crafted and rounded characters in a way that will really resonate in the hearts of readers.

CW: family separation, rape, alcoholism, abuse.

Patricia Engel should be applauded for giving voice to so many who suffer under the conditions expressed in this novel while also making it an accessible read that will help these voices reach a wide range of people. I suspect the target audience here is those who aren’t quite sure how to navigate what has become a very volatile political subject, but it is just as worthwhile for those who are already versed or sympathetic to these plight. In brief, Infinite Country tells the story of Mauro and Elena from their teenage romance to their life in the United States--entering with one infant child and having two more who will have dual citizenship--and then the long years after Mauro is deported. Framed in the present as the youngest child, Talia, as she escapes her imprisonment for her attack of violence (dude might have had it coming though) in order to catch her flight to live in the US with her mom (okay, yea, it’s a bit over-dramatic and corny but it works I suppose), most of the novel is told as an extended flashback to her parents saga. The story is chock full of all the setbacks and issues someone without paperwork might face in the United States while also examining the very real reasons one might overstay their visa despite having to face all these troubles. If there is one thing this novel really nails it is ensuring the reader will feel empathy for those in this situation and provides a lot of rational talking points. However, it manages to not be just a white gaze perspective as this book is undoubtedly a tender support to those who have faced these situations or grown up under parents who did, which I find a more valuable goal to achieve.

I tend to really enjoy novels where the timeline shifts and past and present are threaded together for a greater effect than simple narrative telling, though the shifting of time in Infinite Country seems more to swirl and drift around. This is an important book, though often it feels self-aware of this intention and the style seems more a playacting of what an important book should sound without using the techniques for a greater intention. The meandering doesn’t really tease any reveals of information or keep a controlled heightening of emotional impact and tends to lead to a lot of repeated information and makes a relatively short novel feel longer than it needs to be. Though something could be said about how this experience is disorienting and there is a grabbing at identity in order to hold onto it.

The abstraction of identity is very much felt throughout the book. For Talia, there is the removal of family--she was sent home (‘sent back like some DHL package’ she is chided) to be raised by her grandmother after her father was deported since the Elena would be unable to work if she had to find childcare for the then infant--and wanting to honor her homeland while still desiring to leave it. For Elena and Mauro there is the alienation of being both unseen and seen as a threat in the new land.
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 creature.

They rotate wanting to go home while also wanting to make this new life work which is weighed against the sacrifices they must make. This becomes even more crucial when realizing their potential deportations would separate them from the children who would be held behind due to their birthright citizenship.

I remember wondering what it must feel like to belong to American whiteness,’ Nando writes, ‘and to know you can do whatever you want because nobody you love is deportable.’ This grief is held by the entire family in the US and keeps them silent to wrongs done to them. Nando is beaten up by white kids at school and Elena is sexually assaulted by her boss, but they cannot go to anyone with this for fear Elena will be arrested for lack of citizenship. Police are to be feared, ICE is a constant threat, and all around them people such as themselves are being rounded up in raids at apartments or workplaces. They are stuck in lives where being invisible is their only defense and the children are taught to attain levels of passing to fit in with their white peers. It is an assault on identity, oppressing upon them in a country where people love to cite things such as their 15% Irish heritage on St. Patrick’s Day.

You can love the United States of Diasporica and still be afraid of it.

The reasons for staying are some of the most complex moments in the book. In the US, there are work opportunities to send money home to Elena’s mother Perla. There is also the constant reminder of the political violence back home and the guerrilla attacks, many of which are threaded into the story through things characters hear on the news. Yet the novel never glorifies the United States and never makes it seem like much of a safe haven, a criticism levied at American Dirt last year. ‘Over there people walk into schools and buildings with weapons and kill everyone’ people say of the United States back in Bogota, ‘they’re not ever guerrilla or paramilitary. Just regular people.’ Beyond the constant fear of deportation and police, there are the attacks on POC and random gun violence.
What was it about this country that kept everyone hostage to it’s 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 our different school shootings. A nation at war with itself, yet people still spoke of it as some kind of paradise.

That dissonance between the US as a place to make a new life but also as a threatening land is well navigated in this book and there are some excellent talking points here. Nando brings up how the fears have only elevated since the 2016 election as people were emboldened to aggress upon others due to the violent and racist rhetoric being pumped through conservative news networks and public figures.

Life is never easy for any of these characters. Particularly Elena, and Engel makes a strong case for the intersections of oppression non-white women face. ‘The price of being able to work to provide for the rest of the family was their estrangement.’ Elena must make difficult decisions, such as not seeing her youngest daughter for a decade and a half, in order to continue to work low-wage, difficult jobs in order to keep everyone alive and fed. Engel argus how in a land where ‘family values’ is toted like a shotgun against progressive legislation it is increasingly normalized to spend your entire existence laboring even at the expense of family time and mental health, and simply staying alive means sacrifices of the things that make being alive worthwhile. This is exponentially worse for those without citizenship. It is really encouraging to see voices like these given the space to tell their stories.

Later in the novel, however, the narrator abruptly reveals herself as one of the characters (a very much overlooked character until that point), which is cool, but the execution of it all didn’t quite work. Particularly as the voice shifted dramatically, which felt jarring, and then was followed up by two other separate chapters (non-sequential) with a first person narration from another character. It wasn’t very well smoothed into the story and ultimately felt shoehorned in to address other issues--albeit very important and really thought provoking ones--but coming so late into the novel and so out of character with the rest of the book it just didn’t quite work. Much of these sections were delivered like an afterthought, tacked on to ensure certain ideas and character stories weren’t left unmentioned though I’m still glad they were because these two narrators deliver some great lines and ultimately I feel the novel would have been better had their tone and voice been used for the entirety of the book. I almost wonder if this was a decision by the publisher asking why these characters weren’t addressed otherwise.

It’s not that the sum of these pages can tell everything about us.’ This book is a good start for those who would like to learn about these issues, though Engel makes sure to express that this is only the beginning of understanding. She has done an excellent job of cataloguing the issues, anxieties and violence faced by people like the family here and I’m hopeful that this book will reach the right hands who need to unlearn their biases and be aided on their way to activism and anti-racism. While a lot of the novel didn’t work for me (there is also a moment when a character wonders if a child with autism is a punishment for their bad behavior in life and...ehhhh don’t do that?), it is still quite good and important. I feel like there are other novels that this should lead to, particularly both Lost Children Archive and Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in 40 Questions by Valeria Luiselli, Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera, The Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio, The Ungrateful Refugee by Dina Nayeri or Conditional Citizens: On Belonging in America by Laila Lalami (here is a list of novels about South American immigration voices as well). Heartfelt, harrowing and deeply important, Patricia Engel has a story we should all listen to.


And maybe there is no nation or citizenry; they’re just territories mapped in place of family, in place of love, the infinite country.
Profile Image for Regina.
1,136 reviews2,689 followers
April 1, 2021
For a book with “infinite” in the title, Infinite Country sure is a small book. Literally, the hardback is about the size of a trade paperback. It’s hard to tell when browsing online, but in person oh it’s so little! It’s not dense either. At 191 pages, this is a tale that moves at a very fast clip. Hate slow burns? Then you’ll love the pace of this novel.

The length of Infinite Country is both its strength and its weakness. It’s possible to read it in a sitting or two, which allows the story of this separated 21st century Colombian family to unfold with an uninterrupted urgency like you’d get watching a movie. But because you spend such a short amount of time with the characters, it’s hard to get too attached.

The themes of immigration and deportation are so relevant and important though that it’s well worth the read to feel empathy for those struggling to make a life beyond the circumstances of their birth locale. Be warned however that a short read doesn’t mean an easy one. Trigger warnings for racism, sexual assault, and animal cruelty. (While the scene is brief, the torture and murder of a cat is the catalyst of the plot.)

Infinite Country was the Reese’s Book Club selection for March 2021. I read this because Reese told me to, and I’m glad I did.

Blog: www.confettibookshelf.com
IG: @confettibookshelf
Profile Image for Danielle.
778 reviews367 followers
March 12, 2021
This was a fairly short read, but impactful nonetheless. 🤔 This tells the story of a Colombian couple seeking refuge in America. Two of their three children are born U.S. citizens. The family struggles with the daily fear of being found and deported, or worse, separated. 😢 The treatment they endure is heartbreaking. 💔 Caution: Trigger Warnings: racism, alcoholism, sexual assault
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
3,850 reviews34.9k followers
May 7, 2021
I’ve had this book (a sweet gift that came with others; many thanks to Mimi), for almost a year.
No excuse for not getting to it sooner — but then somehow it hit me recently who the author was — *Patricia Engel* — the exquisite writer of two other books I enjoyed by her: “The Veins of the Ocean” and “Vida”.
I haven’t read (yet), “It’s Not Love, It’s just Paris”...but I’be added it.

“Infinite Country”.... (couldn’t be more relevant than today), would make a perfect book choice for our local book club. The complexity of emigration — the many urgent, and significant conversions that need to be examined — must continue.
“Infinite Country” is a perfect vehicle to expatriate (at length), to further our many points of views exploring the impact of the immigration laws, and the families they so directly affect.

I read this book with my heart in my throat, and my mind somersaulting many of the issues at hand.....seriously examining my own thoughts about legal and illegal— and why the hell is the United States still considered by anyone — the land where dreams are made? I think the last four years kinda proved how that’s just not true.

This story - itself - was authentic-maddening- sad - frustrating - and even though I had mixed feelings about some choices —and perhaps Patricia’s writing slanted more to one side than the opposite—I understood.
Two countries/different cultures/ day-to-day survival issues/heavy burdens and challenges....
In the end, it was impossible not to feel compassion and regard for this family ....(legal, or illegal....right or wrong.... enforcement of immigration laws or not)....
The writing was stunning.....
I’m clear I haven’t even come close to doing justice in portraying the depths of heartbreak that undocumented immigrants experience — or the portrayal of Patricia’s gorgeous prose to stimulate our thoughts about these family members, they’re displacement, (victims and survivors of every kind of violence), constantly looking over ones shoulders — fearful of being caught —
“Displacement of children is like re-potted flowers that live in the wrong habitat”.

Deeply rooted in love!
Profile Image for Melissa (LifeFullyBooked).
4,483 reviews1,605 followers
January 20, 2022
This was my book club choice for January and I'm really glad that I read it, even though it wasn't my regular genre of choice.

This is a very short book, and that works in some ways and is a shortcoming in others. It's the story of a couple, Elena and Mauro who, along with their baby daughter go from Colombia to the US temporarily in order to make money to send back to Elena's mother. They end up overstaying their visa and Mauro is deported, Elena makes the difficult decision to send their infant child, Talia, back to Colombia to be cared for by Elena's mother and Mauro because she can't support herself and care for a baby. The family is separated by distance and years.

The sparse words work well for this story because that's all that this family has--and every word written counts. However, I felt like trying to include so many points of view (Talia, Mauro, Elena, and then eventually the two younger children) were too many for the length.

The story is at times quite difficult to read, and those who read it will read through their own lens and filter of life and experience. My book club had many differing feelings about it due to their life experiences (the wife of a police officer had vastly different views from the paralegal who worked for an immigration attorney), but that actually enhanced my appreciation for the book because there are so many disparate views of immigration and all of its varying facets and allowed me to see beyond my own beliefs.

I think this is a fascinating book and is a perfect book club choice. I encourage readers to step outside of their own comfort zones and read it.
Profile Image for Jen CAN.
466 reviews1,276 followers
August 12, 2021
I adore stories that take place in Latin America. The cultures, the landscape, the familial relationships and the myths.

It’s the traditional and controversial tale - a young family leaves their poor country to make their way to the land of the riches: the U.S. where they hope to find that elusive American dream. Only they do it as illegal immigrants. Finding work under the table, experiencing financial burdens, avoiding the law, facing exploitation, abuse -both physical and mental. Unfortunately, at the cost of separation and deportation.
One child being born in Colombia, the other 2 in the US. The father, Mauro, being sent back to the homeland; Elena, his wife, remaining with the children until she sends the youngest back to Columbia so she can get on her feet & earn funds to send home.

It is heart breaking. The feeling of leaving one’s land and those you love to go to the unknown where you are treated like the enemy. Yearning for home but not risking not being able to return.

After Trump’s immigration fiasco last year, separating children and sending their parents back to wherever they had migrated from, it really begs the question, what kind of humans are we?

As a Canadian homegrown citizen, I can’t even fathom the strength, the sacrifices and the heartache these people endure. The grass isn’t always greener on the other side. It can be far uglier than what you left behind. And sometimes country, isn’t a place but is the simplicity of family…and its own infinity: of whom you surround yourself with, wherever you may be.
Engel has wowed me again ❤️
Profile Image for Anna Avian.
365 reviews45 followers
March 17, 2021
This is a book for the right audience which apparently I’m not.
While the story is impactful and important I didn’t enjoy the 3rd person narrative and felt no connection to the characters whatsoever. The few switches to 1st person narrative sounded detached and out of place since the characters weren’t introduced beforehand and we only knew them by name. It felt like observing the family’s fate from a distance but not being able to dive into their raw emotions, struggles, fears and get to know them better.
Profile Image for SheLovesThePages.
322 reviews96 followers
March 3, 2021
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ 5 stars
Must Read

This is a book that needs to be read. Not because it's beautifully written or suspenseful or a page turner, but because it is important. We are so often bombarded with propaganda about the border and immigrants and documentation. It can be easy to dehumanize all of it. Reading Infinite Country reminds us that there are families and parents and grandparents and children involved in each and every case of citizenship. They all have stories and reasons for living in the United States.
June 21, 2021
/ / / Read more reviews on my blog / / /

“What was it about this country that kept everyone hostage to its fantasy?”

Infinite Country shares much in common with two other novels by Patricia Engel, The Veins of the Ocean and Vida. While I do enjoy certain aspects of her storytelling—which at times reminds me of authors such as Alice Hoffman and Isabel Allende—I do think that her work is much too heavy on the telling. As with The Veins of the Ocean, this latest novel is very light on dialogues and mostly relies on recounting the various histories of different characters. Still, interspersed in their experiences are some lovely descriptions and observations. I particularly liked the role that myths play in the narrative.

“When the world was new, the creatures that ruled were the jaguar, the snake, and the condor.”

I loved the first chapter, which mostly focused on Talia, the youngest child of Elena and Mauro. Although she was born in America she was raised by her father and maternal grandmother in Bogotá. After an act of violence she is sent to a correctional facility run by nuns in the mountains of Colombia. Talia, however, is determined to leave as she has a flight to the U.S. to catch. As Talia journeys across Colombia, hitching rides here and there, readers learn of her parents first meeting and subsequent relationship. The two lived for awhile with Elena's mother but after the birth of their first daughter they relocate to America. After they 'overstay' their tourist visa they are forced to accept unfair wages and live in precarious places. Throughout their relationship Mauro struggles with alcoholism and depression, which drives them apart.

“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 creature.”

Similarly to The Veins of the Ocean and Vida this novel shows the hard choices immigrant parents have to make: to live in a country which deems them 'alien' and in perpetual fear of being deported, or to return to their home country, knowing that there they will face a different struggle.
In the last section of the novel the narrative includes chapters from the first point of view (until then the novel was told through a 3rd pov), specifically those of Talia's American-based siblings. These chapters did not add a lot to the narrative, and they didn't make these characters as fleshed out as Talia. Although Elena and Mauro's relationship and struggles are certainly poignant, that their stories were being 'recounted' in a rather passive way distanced me from them. The switch to a 1st person narration was somewhat jarring, and I did not care for the clichéd address to the reader (on the lines of: "You already know me. I'm the author of these pages").
The storyline would have benefited from focusing more on Talia. Although at first it seems to be hinted that she will play a big role in the story, she is pushed to the sidelines.
While I appreciated the message of this novel, I was not as taken by its execution. If you enjoyed Crooked Hallelujah or you happen to have loved Engel's previous work, you should definitely consider picking this one up.

“Leaving is a kind of death. You may find yourself with much less than you had before.”
Profile Image for B .
99 reviews12k followers
August 7, 2021
This was hard to read, but I can't stop thinking about it. Initially, I rated this 4 stars, but after some thought I truly believe it deserves a 5. TW: animal abuse (that leads to death), assault, pedophilic actions, sexual assault/rape, alcoholism, bullying, and probably more that I'm missing.
This story is told from the different points of a view of a family separated, half living in the States and the other half in Colombia. It's told in flashbacks to better understand how the circumstances of present day came about. This is a story that makes you think about the truth of the "American Dream" and the misconceptions surrounding Immigration, "poorer" countries, and becoming documented. This story is so much more than what I can explain without spoilers- and I think it's unbelievably important.
Like I said, I initially rated it a 4 but a while after finishing it I started talking about it with my mom (who was born & grew up in South America) and it made me realize how much more I'd been affected by what I'd read. I guess I was convincing too, because now my mom has borrowed my copy and will be reading it as well!
Profile Image for Nicole.
708 reviews1,735 followers
October 3, 2021
This was a short book but it definitely had a strong story. It makes me wonder why family dramas need to be so long (especially since many of them lack real substance).

Infinite country follows two timelines and it's one of the cases where I didn't mind at all. It worked out well for the story. First, we have the story of Elena and Mauro escaping turbulent Colombia to the United States and eventually sharing the illegal immigrant status of many migrants there. They're torn between going back to their home country and staying in the US barely able to get by.
On the other hand, we have their firstborn Talia escaping juvenile prison and trying to reunite with her family. I'm going to leave at that because after all, this book is short and I don't want to spoil anything.

This book portrays the struggles an immigrant family faces every day, month, and year. Fear of discovery and deportation is always there and this affects the family's lives greatly. No matter what's your take on immigration, you can't help but feel compassion for those characters who are only trying to improve the lives of their children. After all, it's no one's choice to be born in a poor war-torn country.

Infinite Country was able to capture contemporary immigration problems especially since both perspectives were set after the 2000s. While I couldn't connect with the characters on a deeper level, I certainly empathized with their story. I won't hold that point against this book because it's short and in my opinion, it was enough.

I highly recommend this book if you're looking for a new lens of immigration. The audiobook was also well narrated and I finished it in no time. I'll definitely keep an eye out for Engel's future books because she proved herself to be a talented writer capable of delivering her message while staying on point.
June 11, 2021
Infinite Country follows a mixed-status family over decades who are divided between Colombia and the US. There have been many outstanding books written about families immigrating, and this one has a tone to it that opened up a few things I haven't thought about before.

The story starts with a unique hook and opening line to the story "It was her idea to tie up the nun," which sets up a little suspense to the story with some questions I wanted the answers to. Talia experiences a horrific act and retaliates. It felt more like it was used for shock value, or maybe I was just too shocked to pick up on its meaning. She is then sent to a nun-managed reform school in the Colombian mountains.

In tightly woven swift chapters, the story moves from Talia's parents, Mauro and Elena's earlier relationship, their decisions to leave or stay, and their fight to survive with Talia's journey from escaping the reform school and her race against time to catch her flight to reunite with her family in the US. Twenty years of family history are told as she rushes to catch that plane.

What makes this one a bit different is that it not only explores what life was like for the characters with their struggles with immigration laws, poverty, belonging, and racism. It also shows us their doubt, uncertainty due to their fear for their safety. It explores the misconception that people who leave their homeland is a "simple decision for a better life." I could feel their uncertainty, loneliness, doubt they made the right decision, and struggle with leaving a part of themselves behind. I questioned if they did as we see the danger, poverty, hate, and violence they face in the US that is very real and relevant today.

The other thing that makes this one different is the story's structure. Pacing can be everything in a story, and here it is done impressive and unique. In under 200 pages, Patricia Engel packs events, themes, and emotions into the story to create a page-turner that never slowed down for me. She covers years in only a few pages that stretch over 20 years. There is not much back and forth dialogue, and we see into the character's life through short, vivid paragraphs. A lot happens to Elena in the US, without it ever feeling like drama. Engel achieves this through Elena's inner thoughts, and we see what is important to know and to provoke an emotional response rather than creating scenes. We don't get much time with any character however, Patricia Engel manages to create compelling characters that allowed me to feel with them. Talia does get some dialogue and descriptive scenes that enhance the story with descriptions of landscapes, mythology, and with Colombia's long history of violence.

Elena did at times feel like a saint rather than a vulnerable, strong female character who had to make tough decisions for her children, and I was worried it was leaning towards an issue book. Still, I did think it was well done because it did open up some thought-provoking questions that I hadn't thought about before. I liked how when Elena was challenged, she champions reproductive rights.

The narrators shift towards the end, and at first, it felt awkward, and I was confused by it. Then it starts to flow easier while building up to a tear-jerking ending!! I highly recommend it.
Profile Image for danerys.
448 reviews190 followers
January 28, 2022
4.5 stars

I am in awe. This is such an impactful, important, necessary book, and it’s done so well. Everyone should read this. Everyone. I can’t find a single things wrong with it; the only reason I didn’t rate it 5 stars is because I got a little confused at some parts (which is a problem with me and not the book, so I really have no reason to complain.) I am so glad I picked this for botm, I couldn’t imagine a better choice. Truly an amazing read.

꧁The Story꧂

So, yes, this is fiction. But this type of story happens all the time in real life. It’s so refreshing to see it from all these different povs, and it was very eye-opening to read. I did get confused at many parts because I couldn’t figure out who was where and where people wanted to go, because I feel like it switched around a lot, but other than that I have no complaints. This book is very short, and I couldn’t put it down, so I pretty much read it in a single sitting. The entire time, I couldn’t predict what would happen next, I was trying to figure out what the best decision would be right alongside these characters. A warning, before you read this book. Infinite Country is not a happy read. It’s not a fluffy read, either. It deals with the struggles of life and immigration, and there are many parts that are brutal and raw. Also, this book comes with triggers, so beware. But overall, this story is one that needed to be told, and I think that the author did a fabulous job of telling it.

꧁The Characters꧂

Honestly, I don’t even know if I can call these characters “characters.” They feel too real, too much like real people, for me to call them that. Their story could honestly be a true story, it just happens not to be. These people, though. These characters, if that’s what you want to call them. They were so perfectly written. Not perfect, they were far from perfect. They were flawed, messy, like all humans are. But they were depicted so well, so accurately- I don’t even have words. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were modeled after people the author actually knew, that’s how real they felt. Speaking of feeling, I felt for them. I felt every emotion, every thought, the weight of every decision, alongside them. After reading this book, I feel like I know each and every one so well, especially Talia, who was an amazing MC. I loved her from the moment ⚠️spoiler⚠️ she poured boiling oil on a man because he did that to an innocent cat.

꧁The Writing꧂

It’s going to be very hard for me to describe the writing in this book. Because it’s not really like anything I have ever read. It’s beautiful, yes, but it doesn’t go on describing the color of a flower for 10 pages straight in an arrangement of smiles and metaphors. (Cmbyn I’m looking @ you.) It’s more beautiful in a sharp way; in a raw way. It’s beautiful, the words are beautiful, the way the words are used is beautiful, but it also cuts straight to the point. It actually gets to the point so fast that I would have to go back and read it over again because I missed who a person was or what was happening. I feel like this story could’ve been written in a really boring, dull way, but the way that this author wrote it brings life and color to the pages. It’s really an exquisite thing.


In conclusion, don’t let my four-star rating fool you. I only put that because I’m dumb and missed a lot of stuff. It’s no problem with the book, I actually don’t think the book has any problems whatsoever. Please, do yourself a favor and read it when you can. It’s really important and impactful and just overall an incredible read.
Profile Image for NILTON TEIXEIRA.
760 reviews229 followers
October 11, 2021
A Reese’s book club pick.
I have mixed feelings about this book.
This is another book that shows the struggles of people trying to leave their country looking for a better life in the USA.
It’s well written and it started very strong.
The storyline is good but its development and structure is a bit disjointed.
There are too many jumps in timeline and between characters, which I did not find confusing, but unfortunately broke the flow and the rhythm of the book. For that reason I did not find myself involved or connected with the characters.
The use of Spanish words, in my opinion, did not add an authenticity. It would have been better if the words chosen were more characteristic of Colombian people, rather than using a generic or universal word. No translation is offered, perhaps because it was not of importance (fortunately I do understand Spanish).
I think that this book is too short to offer more substance. In other words, I did find it a bit superficial.
But it is a fast read. There are only 61k words (less than 200 pages).

PS: I was listening to the audiobook narrated by Ines del Castillo at the same time as I was reading.
Lately I’ve been doing that quite a lot, as a way to teach myself to enjoy audiobooks, which I still can’t do on its own.
Most of the time that doubled my pleasure of reading, especially with classic books.
With this one, the audiobook did not help me at all. Not because I found the narrator’s voice lifeless. I think that it had to do with the book’s structure, although I did have to increase the speed to 1.50x
Profile Image for Bianca.
1,011 reviews869 followers
June 12, 2021
This is another book that goes into the I should have liked this more category.
It wasn't bad but I was never wowed, and worse, the writing kept me at a distance, I never felt invested in the characters' stories that included illegal immigration, alcoholism, poverty, loneliness, fear etc.
It's such a short book, but I found myself opting to do other things rather than return to it.

Many other readers have liked this a lot more, so don't let my lack of enthusiasm put you off.
Profile Image for Susan's Reviews.
1,039 reviews462 followers
February 28, 2021
If this author doesn't get a Pulitzer or a Nobel prize for this novel, then there is no justice in this world.

Young Talia's predicament filled me with constant dread. The narrator's tone is dispassionate - almost a monotone. (We find out later that the narrator is related to Talia - no more spoilers here!) Most of the dialogue is contained in the body of the narration. What Talia or some other character says in conversation is reported in a paragraph and is not set apart. Normally, all this "telling and not showing" would distance us from Talia and the other characters. Instead, we watch the story unfold with rapt fascination as we are given tidbits of information, interspersed with observations and a few flashbacks. At one point, the focus of the novel switches from Talia to each of her family members, then back to the narrator.

Many of the main characters live with the perpetual fear of being discovered, imprisoned and/or deported. Talia and her father will have to risk their lives, and potentially their freedom, to rejoin Talia's mother and her siblings back in America.

Talia is torn: she loves her father, and is content to be living with him in Colombia, but she also wants to be with her mother and siblings. However, Talia seals her own fate when, one fateful afternoon, she is outraged as she witnesses a man torturing a cat and impulsively retaliates by doing to him what he did to the poor cat. (They should have given her a medal, not put her in reform school, but there, I have days when I like animals more than humans!)

Talia has no choice but to leave her father and Colombia and rejoin her mother and siblings if she wants any semblance of a normal life. There is a word in Portuguese - saudade - which exactly describes the longing, the sadness and regret that Talia and her family feel: for their parent country, Colombia, and for the lost years with each other as a family. "Pining" is an inadequate translation of this word. There is an element of grief mixed in with the pining: "I will never see you again" is often a phrase that follows the pitiful words, "Ai que saudade"...... It is lamentation, regret, aching sorrow, and yes, a huge dose of pining.

And what does the title of this book actually mean? Here is a clue: (and this might be an unwelcome spoiler for some of you: if so, skip this quote:)

"... we watched our parents sway, finding each other's rhythm as if they'd never fallen out of step, as if the past fifteen years were only a dance interrupted waiting for the next song to play. I wondered about the matrix of separation and dislocation, our years bound to the phantom pain of a lost homeland, because now that we are together again that particular hurt and sensation that something is missing has faded. And maybe there is no nation or citizenry; they're just territories mapped in place of a family, in place of love, the infinite country."

I had to really ponder the interesting use of the word "matrix" here. If we take "matrix" to mean "the environment in which something develops," then you have to marvel at how economically Engel managed to convey her thoughts: "family" is the infinite country - "family" is what makes a home. Perhaps I am reading too much into this sentence, but, as a summing up, it does make sense.

The last thing I want to say about this beautifully written, heartrending exposé of man's inhumanity to man is something I came to realize when I worked one summer for Immigration Canada. We humans have waged wars and committed atrocities in defense of our borders and our belief that we humans somehow own this land, this earth. I came to believe that no one should have the right to prohibit another human being from wandering and exploring this earth. In a better version of this world, we should be free to roam like the birds in the sky and the fish in the sea. Talia's father expressed it more eloquently:

"The more he stared at those borders on maps, the more absurd it seemed that outsiders succeeded in declaring possession of these lands with national lines, as if Creation could ever be divided and owned."

Everyone should read this book!
My great thanks to the author, publisher and NetGalley for an ARC of this marvelous book in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Larry H.
2,440 reviews29.4k followers
June 4, 2021
If you're looking for a powerful, relevant story about immigration and its effects on a Colombian family, look no further than Patricia Engel's Infinite Country .

“And maybe there is no nation or citizenry; they’re just territories mapped in place of family, in place of love, the infinite country.”

Talia was sent to a juvenile facility in the Colombian mountains after committing a sudden act of violence in retribution for horrible animal cruelty. (Was what she did more extreme than what the person did? She doesn't think so.) She doesn’t feel she belongs there and is desperate to get home to her father in Bogota.

One night she and some of the other teenage girls escape from the facility. Talia must make it home so she can catch a flight and finally be reunited with her mother and siblings, who have been living in America. If she gets caught or somehow doesn’t make it home in time, she might miss her chance to ever get to America.

Infinite Country is the story of two generations. It follows Mauro and Elena, Talia’s parents, as they fall in love as teenagers in Colombia and try to build a life together in America, only to be thwarted by immigration issues. It traces their path as they are forced to make a decision that splits the family.

The book juxtaposes their story with Talia’s, as she tries to get home. She wonders whether leaving her father for America is the right decision, or whether she should stay with the parent who knows her. It’s an all-too-familiar struggle faced by families.

I thought Infinite Country was gorgeously written and it brimmed with emotion. I didn’t necessarily agree with all of the storytelling choices Engel made—all of a sudden the narration in the book switches to two other people that hadn’t yet had a role in the story. But it’s a minor thing, really, amidst the beauty of her writing.

So grateful to have read this with a friend of mine on Bookstagram. Thanks for the discussion and for encouraging me to read this!

Check out my list of the best books I read in 2020 at https://itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blogspot.com/2021/01/the-best-books-i-read-in-2020.html.

See all of my reviews at itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blogspot.com.

Follow me on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/the.bookishworld.of.yrralh/.
Profile Image for Lisa.
1,379 reviews518 followers
February 14, 2021
[3.8] Infinite Country is the searing story of a family divided by borders and immigration status. In a mere 191 pages, Engel attempts to create an entire history of Mauro and Elena, her mother, and their children. To accomplish this, the author relies heavily on "telling." I wish Engel had stuck to the present which was so much more riveting than the pages of filler backstory! But even with its flaws, I won't soon forget this powerful novel.

"Emigration was the 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 creature."
Profile Image for Esil.
1,118 reviews1,323 followers
April 4, 2021
4+ stars

This was so well done. In a number of parallel narratives, Engel depicts a Columbian/American family struggling with the realities of choosing between two difficult realities. Mauro and Elena meet as teenagers in Columbia. After having their first child, they migrate to the US. They have two more children, after which Maur0 is deported back to Columbia. Elena soon sends their youngest child back to live in Columbia with her mother and Mauro. Most of the narrative takes place 15 years later, told from the points of view of all family members who have lived different and separate realities. Talia, the youngest, is scheduled to go back to the United States. But it's really not clear that she will make it. The plot is unconventional. The characters are strong. And the writing is immediate. Thanks to Edelweiss for an opportunity to read an advance copy.
Profile Image for Barbara.
1,285 reviews639 followers
May 28, 2021
3.5 stars: For me, “Infinite Country” was a difficult novel to read because it seemed like it was “jumpy/fragmented”. The story didn’t follow a character nor a time frame. It jumped from one character to another, from one time to another. The consistent “character” was a family. The story follows the members of a Columbian family. Although the novel begins with a daughter, in the mountains of Columbia, trying to make it home, the story really begins with the parents, Mauro and Elena.

Elena is happy in Columbia. She lives with her mother, and Mauro becomes enchanted with her. After wooing her into marrying him, he convinces her that leaving Columbia would be the best move to begin a family. It’s safer in the United States he feels.

They do leave and become undocumented workers. He gets deported, leaving Elena in the US with the children. She never wanted to be there, and yet she’s afraid to leave because of her undocumented status may result in her losing her children

Author Patricia Engel does a fantastic job showing the difficulties of undocumented workers. The abuse, emotionally and physically, is heart-wrenching to read. Engel shows the complexities of immigration status, especially for families. Events that occur to her and her children are real and so very sad.

She includes some Columbian folklore, which I enjoyed very much. The tenacity of her characters is amazing. Although I think I’ve read a lot about the issues of immigration and undocumented workers, I still find novels like this one, that illuminate their situations far more than the political rhetoric that we receive. It’s a complex situation, and my heart breaks when I read about families and their difficulties.

I did enjoy the Columbian aspect of this story. This is my first novel reflecting the Columbian experience. I enjoyed reading the novel, but it was cumbersome for me. The fragmented time-line, the jumping from character to character with no thread was a bit difficult for me. I recommend it, but with those caveats. I don’t think this is a novel for everyone.
Profile Image for fatma.
873 reviews508 followers
May 2, 2021
One of the biggest literary turnoffs for me is when an author is trying so hard to move you with their flowery writing but actually fails to do so. It's like a one-two punch of bad writing: not only do you get "moving" writing that isn't actually moving, but you can also just sense how desperately laboured the author's attempts are at manufacturing that supposedly moving writing. And this is exactly my problem with Infinite Country: I could immediately tell that it was trying to achieve something that it just didn't end up achieving; it tried to be poignant, but it completely missed the mark. The characters are a big part of this problem, namely because they had no personality whatsoever. They were just people who reacted to things happening to them and moved the plot along. Never did I get a sense of what made them unique, or distinguished them in any way. And honestly, it sucks to have to write a negative review of a book whose author's previous novel, The Veins of the Ocean, I absolutely loved. Where The Veins of the Ocean did everything right, Infinite Country did not.
Profile Image for Liz.
1,917 reviews2,351 followers
May 28, 2021
This might be a great written book but it just wasn’t working for me as an audiobook.
Did not finish.
Profile Image for Traci Thomas.
511 reviews9,263 followers
March 5, 2021
The writing in this book is really good. The way she manipulates language to craft the book, and in so few pages, is really impressive. I enjoyed reading the book and was curious what would happen in the end. I like the ways she complicated our ideas of family and love and home and belonging and grief (so much grief). There is also some oversimplification. The book felt fairytale like. Archetypal characters. Clear good and evil. Etc. I would've liked more plot, or maybe the tempo wasn't quiet right for me, but none the less I felt things.
Profile Image for Teresa.
Author 8 books753 followers
April 22, 2021
I read this novel alongside Helon Habila’s Travelers (review to follow), both novels of emigration, though of different countries. It made for an interesting comparison/parallel.

I had a bit of trouble getting into this book after its effective first chapter. That mostly had to do with a narratorial choice that conflates different characters’ sections into one similar-sounding voice. The voice also gives them a wisdom and some knowledge (the insertion of news they just happen to hear, for example) that at times I felt would’ve been beyond them. The reason for this is later revealed with a narratorial change that felt refreshing and more authentic to me.

This is the April book of The Nervous Breakdown Book Club. It’s a timely work, still very much of the moment.
Profile Image for Jill.
1,149 reviews1,590 followers
March 29, 2021

“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.
159 reviews2 followers
January 15, 2021
So heavy on the political innuendos. I want to be entertained while reading and this book felt like the authors compilation of complaints and grips played out through her characters thoughts and actions. I wish Patricia had told us more about Talia's life and journey.
Profile Image for Nastja .
222 reviews1,377 followers
December 16, 2021
Мать: остается в США нелегалкой, хотя очень скучает по Колумбии и мечтает туда вернуться, (и ей ничего не мешает туда вернуться, у нее там любимая мама, домик, бизнес, горы и небо), терпит унижения и насилие, но все ради БУДУЩЕГО ДЕТЕЙ.

Дочь: интересуется, как стать вебкам-моделью, потому что мать привезла ее в США нелегально и у нее нет документов.
Profile Image for Claire.
633 reviews277 followers
March 6, 2021
Infinite Country opens with the thrilling escape of teenage Talia from a girl's reform school in northern Colombia, pulling us into her story very quickly. Her escape is motivated by the desire to get home to her father who holds a dated plane ticket for her, that will enable her to return to her birthplace and to her mother and two siblings whom she hasn't seen since she was a baby.

Talia's journey south threads throughout the narrative, like a serpent meandering towards its den. Confident in her ability to arrive at her destination, intuitively driven.

The story reverses and we learn how it came about that Elena and her children Nando and Karina are in America, while Mauro and Talia are in Colombia. How dreamer Mauro fell in love with contented Elena, in the market, their lives being played out on a small canvas until Mauro shared his dream and Elena facilitated it.

The dream becomes the nightmare of survival as their visas expire and they're part of "the undocumented" moving from place to place in search of work until the day Mauro gets caught, and not long after swiftly deported. Elena becomes the sole bread winner for the family, leading to more heart-breaking events.

As I read their story, it held the echo of hundreds of couples, of families, split and fragmented by migration, exile, circumstance. This section is written in the slower form of a narrative summary, though equally compelling due to the feelings and questions it evokes in the reader as we read. And just as we begin to wonder where the action is, it shifts back to Mauro and we witness his tumultuous return to Elena's mother Perla, who will raise his child, Talia.

It's an interesting blend of narrative perspectives, the switch between Talia's adventurous journey south and the backstory of how she came to be escaping to escape, including her parents story. Through Mauro and Talia we are also exposed to their cultural stories, the myths of their people, of serpent, jaguar, condor and the one story that haunts Mauro, that he will never tell.

Near the end, it switches again to a second person "you" voice, and it's Nando speaking to his sister Karina. For the reader, this is as abrupt as the deportation of the father, a seismic shift of sorts.

It switches again to the first person "I", the quiet Karina, and we learn it is she who has been telling us this story all along.

It's a thought provoking story of one family that is reminiscent of so many, universal and yet particular to this one family, brilliantly showing the struggle not just to survive somewhere new, but to survive leaving, to survive separation, the strength required to hold steadfast to a dream and if not to the dream, to one's family, who will change, evolve, split, fragment, become something other.

From an interview with Adrienne Westenfeld, Esquire Patricia Engel Captures The Interior World of Immigration
You write at the end of the novel, "Maybe there is no nation or citizenry." What do borders mean to you?

PE: I think something that has always sparked my curiosity, as somebody who loves animals and nature, is how we can watch endless documentaries marveling about the miracle of migration when animals do it and how they know how to cross other lands in pursuit of resources.

What doesn’t occur to us are the ways that the human species is a migratory species, which has ensured its own survival, literally, because of the instinct to migrate. Borders are ever-changing things, as we've seen; countries often change them, rename themselves, and cede parts of their borders to other countries.

Borders are man-made, designed to serve special interests, and really are not natural. We shouldn't be surprised by the ways they fall short of what human instincts and human needs require.
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