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All booksLiterary fictionThe Veins of the Ocean
The Veins of the Ocean by Patricia Engel
Literary fiction

The Veins of the Ocean

by Patricia Engel

Quick take

Lush and entrancing, steeped in love and sorrow, faith and myth... A novel about redemption and place and home and the bonds of family, how inescapable they are, for better and worse.

Why I love it

Roxane Gay
June 2016

South Florida is a world unto itself. When I am there, I always marvel at the wildly diverse people. Miami, in particular, is full of strangers in a strange land, people trying so hard to create a sense of home so far from the homes they have long known.

As a writer, as a child of immigrants whose parents had to create a new home in the U.S., I am endlessly curious about the lives of other displaced people. I want to know those stories of the Cubans and Haitians and Colombians and Hondurans and Filipinos and so many others who find themselves in Miami and all over this country.

Patricia Engel's The Veins of the Ocean satisfies that curiosity with power and beauty. Reina Castillo is a young Colombian American woman living in Miami, living a half-life. She spends her weekends traveling from Miami to the South Glades Penitentiary where her brother Carlito is on death row. For seven years, Reina has imprisoned herself so that she might share some of her brother's suffering. As the novel unfolds, we learn about the Castillo family's troubled history and watch as Reina tries to free herself from that history, as she tries to learn how to live a full life, on her own terms.

The Veins of the Ocean is lush and entrancing, steeped in love and sorrow, faith and myth. This is a novel about redemption and place and home and the bonds of family, how inescapable they are, for better and worse. This is not only Reina's story but also that of Nesto, whom she meets after she moves to the Florida Keys seeking a fresh start. Nesto, a Cuban who left his children behind on that island, is doing everything in his power to bring his family back together. He is a man who can fix things and maybe people, and who shows Reina the power of the water all around them and the power of faith.

Patricia Engel is a gorgeous writer and I love the confidence of her prose. She knows the story she is telling, inside and out. She knows the story and its unfathomable depths and so that's how we experience reading this novel—fully, deeply, like an ocean.

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