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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.

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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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Member thoughts

All (319)
All (319)
Love (135)
Like (140)
Dislike (44)
360 ratings
  • 38% Love
  • 39% Like
  • 12% Dislike
  • Apex, NC

    I loved this poignant novel about forgiveness, redemption, and love in the Florida Keys. Reina's built a prison of guilt around herself. Nesta helps Reina by lovingly teaching her to love nature & him

  • vienna, VA

    I was immediately captivated by the main character and her storyline. Even if I couldn't personally relate, I was able to feel like I was in her shoes. Could be triggering for some cuz of heavy topics

  • Fort Lauderdale, FL

    I have many feelings for this book that takes place so close to home but also across a sea, deep in the experiences of immigration and community I know, but also mired in the experiences I never knew.

  • Miami , FL

    A beautiful love story. I loved this book. Excellent writing and I just fell in love with the characters. The author really made them real. I love the richness of culture in the story as well.

  • Yorba Linda, CA

    Reading this novel was like drinking in the characters and their stories. The events seemed to wash over me, and in turn I poured myself into it. Can the sorrows of revolution be mitigated by love?

  • Saint Charles, MO

    This book took a swcond to pick up, but when it did the novel was AMAZING!! Such a beautifully painted story about love, learning how to live on your own terms, and the connections with the ocean!

  • Butler, WI

    Like veins in your body, the story and meaning of the stories flow in and out of each other. Engel is a beautiful writer and touches on so many important topics without forcing the subject. Loved!

  • Oak Park , IL

    Ultimately left me feeling more hopeful than a book has in a while. Very melancholy yet effective book.The author creates a vivid sense of trepidation in Reina, and she is slow to change and grow.

  • Gainesville, VA

    A beautiful story with themes of home, both where one is born and where one settles, migration, love and loss, freedom and captivity. I loved swimming in these pages and highly recommend the book.

  • Chico, CA

    I picked this novel as an effort to try something a little different from my usual, and I'm glad I did. It was beautifully written, an almost impressionistic plot with a tangible setting.

  • Saint Louis, MO

    I read this during a huge fight with my husband and it was so beautifully written, I felt like certain passages were written for me. Words just can't describe the beauty of this book.

  • Corona, NY

    Gorgeously written. This book deals with multiple familial issues (including an incarcerated family member, abuse and a sordid past). It also explores the search for absolution.

  • Brooklyn, NY

    Speaking to the threads of immigration, refugees, prison and family, this moving and lyrical novel explores our connections to other countries while creating a life in America.

  • Denver, CO

    This was incredibly powerful. I had my issues with it but overall I thought that the characters were interesting, the writing good, and the plot heartbreaking but believable.

  • Alexandria, VA

    This one got me. The meshing of cultures, the female lead, the love interest, it was gorgeous. It gave much needed insight into what it's like to be an immigrant in Florida.


    A melancholic experiment in love, loss, grief, and the wonder in, sometimes, finding yourself in the right place at the right time. This book is healing.

  • Bakersfield, CA

    A wonderful view into how we deal with trauma and the perseverance of the human spirit to continue to make and hold on happiness that forever eludes us

  • Patchogue , NY

    Beautiful book about one's woman roots, what tied her down, and her connections in life. Great read, it was a very quick read for me, I wanted more!

  • Miami, FL

    Related to this book in many ways, being a Colombian in Miami. Loved the development of the characters and the journey from a dark place to hope

  • Westland, MI

    The author's style ebbed and flowed like the ocean's tide. I have always loved the water, and this book captured it perfectly.

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