Infinite Country by Patricia Engel
How unusual and captivating is this book cover?! I friggin love it. I entered one of those many giveaway competitions on Instagram a while back and I honestly still cannot believe that I won this book! Such an amazing treat. The blogger that I won the giveaway from is actually one of my favorite accounts to follow on Instagram - @lupita.reads - She always reads the most interesting books and some of which I’ve never heard of. So thank you Lupita for my free book! Also thank you to Avid Reader Press for sending it to me! As soon as I had read what this book was about I just knew I had to enter this giveaway competition. This book has been on my ‘to read’ list for ages! It’s just been released on March 2, 2021 and also it happens to be the Reese Witherspoon Book Club pick for March too! I’m pretty sure this will be one of 2021’s best reads and I predict it will win some major awards too. Let’s get on with the plot shall we?
The setting of this book is Bogota, Colombia and various states in the US.
We follow a young couple in a country devastated by a half century of violence. Mauro and Elena are only teenagers when they first meet. Their first daughter Talia, is born and with the country’s bleak and brutal reality sets itself on the young couple, they soon look to pursue a new life in the United States.
They soon move to Texas, US, send money back to Elena’s mother to help keep her afloat, and all the while weighing whether they should take the risk of overstaying their tourist visas, or return back home to Bogota. As their family grows, and they move from one unstable house to the next, their decision to ignore their exit dates plunges the young family into the precariousness of undocumented status, and the looming threat of exposure of their status strains on the family greatly. When Mauro gets deported, Elena is left to fend for herself and her three children and has to come to terms with the most difficult decision she will ever make. One that will ease her burdens but splinter the family even further.
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 a book. Patricia Engel herself, is a daughter of Colombian immigrants and the voices that she gives this family was completely superb. I always say this and I will say it again. Books that are that deal with immigration should always be written by authors who are from the countries in which they write about. This book was absolutely brilliant.
The story itself is quite short, at only 191 pages, this book packs a punch and you get a lot more than you expect from this read. Even though this was a fiction story, the issues and many themes that were covered in this book are happening right now in the US. It was an incredibly harrowing and devastating story but also a necessary and real story that a lot of immigrants and undocumented immigrants can relate to. It deals with the difficult choices that a lot of immigrant parents have to make in order to pursue a better life or a more stable life. It deals with family separation, war torn countries with lack of opportunity and hardships. The amount of themes that are in this book is unreal. It was not an easy story to read. This is a heavy read but one that was filled with an unexpected hope as well. Sprinkled throughout the book, were all of these mystical Andean myths that I thought were so authentic and brought a warmness and an authenticity to the story. One that you would only get from an author who knows what they are speaking about. I’d never heard of Andean myths before but I ended up doing a search after and it was fascinating to learn about the history and the folklore around these stories. I thought that this was a great touch to the story itself. The story spans around 20 years or so and a lot happens in this book especially for the minute size of the book! It was a completely unforgettable story that I will remember for years to come.
One of my favorite things about this book was how sharp the writing was. It was quite unusual and it almost reminded me of the book Luster by Raven Leilani. Very much to the point, with no faffing around. I highly respected the way the book was written with taught and precise chapters. Given that the book was so short, there wasn’t a lot of dialogue in this read. We were told the story mostly from the eldest daughter’s POV, Talia. As well as perspectives from the parents, Elena and Mauro, and surprisingly later on, from the other two children’s perspectives as well. I will say that at times, I found myself to be a little confused with who’s POV I was reading, but it didn’t bother me so much that it would put me off the story. I actually thought that the very first line in this book was one of the best first I’ve ever read in a story. It was hilarious.
“It was her idea to tie up the nun.”
Another favorite quote of mine was from page 150 below:
"It seemed to Mauro that in choosing to emigrate, we are the ones trafficking's ourselves. Perhaps it was the fate of man to remain in motion and seek distance, determine by the will of Chiminigagua, because humankind's first migration was from the subterranean world beneath the sacred lake, driven out by the great water snake, to the land of the jaguars and the kingdom of the condors above."
I was completely gripped the entire way through and I was dying to know what was going to happen next. It was one of those books where you had literally no idea how it was going to end. None whatsoever. It’s always so amazing when a book can do that to you. Completely unpredictable.
The characters in this book were seriously relatable. I felt like somewhere out there, there are thousands of Talias, Mauros, Elenas and the other two siblings, Karina and Nandos. Elena and Talia were incredible dimensional characters. We mostly get the perspectives of Talia in this book but also, we do get a glimpse of the other characters’ lives as well. The immense fear that these characters go through was unreal. It was such a harrowing story and a devastating fear. Even for characters such as Nando, who was born in the US. The fear of possibly losing his family due to their unstable status, it’s something that stays with you long after you’ve read this book. Mauro, I would say, was a completely endearing and surprising character, your first instinct is to dislike him but towards the end of the book, you grow fond of him. Engle did an excellent job in showing us the many perspectives and emotions of each and every character in this book. I feel like I know this family and they could very well be my next door neighbors.
My only negative comment is that because the book was so short, at times, I felt a little confused as to who’s POV I was reading, also I felt quite thrown off halfway in the book when new character perspectives were thrown at us from out of nowhere. It was quite jarring but I do have to say that it did keep my attention. I would at times also find the broken timelines quite confusing, but it’s not something that you wouldn’t understand without a little more concentration. Weirdly enough, I did also like how short the book was. I think that is what gave it it’s sharp, edgy and quite blunt writing style. But maybe the length also meant that the story and characters weren’t fully developed? With all that said, I gave this book my highest rating because it’s well deserved and it’s a story that I know will stick to my brain for years to come.
All in all this is an absolute must read! It really is. I highly encourage you to pick up this book. It’s not an easy book to read, so you have been warned. But, when you do read it, you will truly appreciate the beautiful and raw story that Engel brings to us. It’s a story about immigration, family separation, different borders, compassion, heartache and hope, family bonds and the never ending search for a better life. It’s a tense reminder of the reality of the lives of undocumented immigrants in the US. With sharp and bold writing, this book is an absolute must read.
I knew I wanted a Spanish song for this song pick. Also, I haven’t picked a Spanish song yet in any of my book reviews! I actually have listened to a few tracks from this famous sister/brother duo, Jesse Y Joy (Jesse & Joy), so I had a look at their Spotify to see if they had any immigration related songs and sure enough they did! I listened to the song and I felt that the emotion and the melody really fit this book well. The song pick is ‘Un Besito Mas’ and it’s about a couple attempting to make a new life in the US after crossing the border, and the complications of the children who have citizenship being separated from undocumented parents. The song is written from the perspective of a child who stayed in the U.S. after her parents were deported. (I got the translation of the song/lyrics from www.spanishmama.com) The music video is absolutely devastating to watch, but frankly, it does deal with the turmoil that the family in this book also deal with. A beautiful song too.
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 208 Pages
Publication Date: March 2, 2021
Publisher: Avid Reader Press