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Infinite Country by Patricia Engel
Literary fiction

Infinite Country

Repeat author

Patricia Engel is back at Book of the Month – other BOTMs include The Veins of the Ocean.

Early Release

This is an early release that's only available to our members—the rest of the world has to wait to read it.

by Patricia Engel

Excellent choice

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Quick take

Lyrical and poignant, this multigenerational story follows the lives of one Colombian family separated by borders.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Emotional

    Emotional

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_FastRead

    Fast read

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_MultipleNarrators

    Multiple viewpoints

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Acclaim

    Critically acclaimed

Synopsis

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.

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Content warning

This book contains mentions of sexual assault.

Free sample

Get an early look from the first pages of Infinite Country.
Infinite Country

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. Forbidden from gossip and touching, but they did both when out of sight.

At night, in the blackness of their dormitory, they gathered to whisper in shards of windowpane moonlight.

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Why I love it

I fell hard for Engel's storytelling back in 2010 with her debut Vida and then again when I read The Veins of the Ocean. But this is Engel at her best. I read Infinite Country in one sitting, devouring the book from the very first sentence: "It was her idea to tie up the nun.”

From the get, I was invested in Talia, a teen living in Colombia who is attempting to break out of a correctional facility after being sentenced for an impulsive and arguably justified crime. Talia is on the run and on the clock, racing against time to catch a flight to reunite with her family in the United States. Told with tenderness and brilliance, this is a nuanced story of a resilient family from Colombia who are pulled apart by deportation.

This is the kind of book that allows you to see and feel the whole issues of immigration and displacement, offering an intimate perspective of an experience that touches and impacts us all. What I love about this novel is that the characters' choices, gestures, and yearnings defy the expectations of the reader. The landscapes, situations, and character dynamics are gritty, unpredictable, curious, and warm-hearted. Through one family’s incredible journey, and their commitment to each other, I am reminded of, if and when we allow it, the possibility of and capacity for love. I am so grateful for this book. It gave me all the feels.

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Member ratings (13,567)

  • Pierce P.

    Fredericksburg, VA

    Patricia Engel masterfully lays out a narrative of family stories that are maybe seen as “too traumatic”, “too absurd”, or “too controversial” to tell a true American experience. A masterwork novel.

  • Vanessa C.

    PISGAH FOREST, NC

    This isn’t a perfect book. I thought for the first 3/4 it was too much “tell” and not enough “show.” But the characters finally won me with their love and compassion for each other. Worth the wait.

  • Elijah J.

    San Diego, CA

    Powerful book that will incite a fervency within you to have the word ‘undocumented’ banned. Really reminded me of the universal power of altruism, family and [above all] love... the infinite country.

  • Theresa H.

    Sandston, VA

    By reading this family’s story, I’ve gained a more intimate understanding of why Latinos choose to live marginalized and vulnerable in the US, as well as some common experiences for the undocumented.

  • Christina T.

    Wallkill , NY

    This book shines a light on such a prevalent issue in the world right now. I don’t know how anyone reading it couldn’t feel compassion for families separated. I wish they all could have happy endings!

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