Home Books Infinite Country: by Patricia Engel

Infinite Country: by Patricia Engel

In the American media, Colombia is painted as a dangerous country of drug cartels and indiscriminate murder, a lawless land of cocaine and death. It is lost in a jumble of South American countries where poverty and corruption reign supreme. But what do we really know? And is the United States, a land of mass shootings, white supremacy and cruel ICE raids, really the bastion of morality to which other countries should be compared?

Infinite Country, Patricia Engel’s latest novel, may be an immigration story but it also paints Colombia as vibrant, almost mythical land, both punishing and magical. In a scant 191 pages, Engel creates two worlds: the cloud-cloaked, confounding Bogotá that her protagonists are trying to escape and the United States and its impassively indifferent citizens who attempt to exploit those seeking refuge in its rapidly closing arms.

The story begins as teenage Talia escapes from a reform school in the mountains of Colombia. Her father, Mauro, lives in Bogotá and has arranged a plane ticket for Talia to join her mother and siblings in the United States. But first, she must find her way back home, evading the police, so she can flee the country.

Engel doesn’t make Talia’s sympathies about Colombia cut and dry. There is part of her that doesn’t want to leave. Much of Infinite Country is filled with exquisite details of the landscape, from the lush mountains to the lonely roads that Talia must traverse to get back to Bogotá. When she was a child, Mauro filled her with Colombian folktales and Engel’s love for Colombia bleeds through in these sections. She stops short of romanticizing the country, however, as equal weight is given to the history of Colombia’s bloodshed.

Infinite Country is not just about Talia’s journey to escape. We also follow the story of her mother, Elena, and her struggles to settle in the United States as she is exploited by employers and other refugees. Engel covers a lot of ground in this short book, chronicling how Elena and Mauro met, their flight to the United States, Mauro’s deportation and what happens with Elena and their children after he is gone. We also learn how Talia ends up back in Colombia, despite being born in the United States. Sometimes these varied histories tug at the fabric of the book, taking away from Talia’s story.

At times, Infinite Country moves too quick. It rarely lingers on a scene, but rather propels us through years at a time with little time for the reader to catch their breath. Elena’s story suffers the most. Talia is impetuous and quick-tempered. Mauro struggles with self-doubt and alcoholism. But Elena reads like a silent martyr, suffering the indignities that come with being an undocumented worker, rather than a fully fleshed-out character in her own right.

Still, Infinite Country will make your heart swell and your stomach contract in horror. Engel creates a damning indictment of a country that prides itself as the leader of the free world but wallows in the same sort of bloodshed that plagues places like Colombia. Despite some strange jumps in perspective near the book’s close, Infinite Country is a successful novel, one that often soars but then plummets too soon in mid-flight.

An immigration story that paints Colombia as vibrant, almost mythical land, both punishing and magical.
73 %
Immigration Song
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