Contemporary Literature

Infinite Country

This is a #bookstagram made me do it book choice (thanks in main part to @irisbooklist) and that’s about all I have to say as an intro. 

Infinite Country by Patricia Engel

“Eventually she’d understand that in matters of migration, even accidental, no option is more moral than anther. There is only the path you make. Any other would be just as wrong or right.”

Infinite Country follows Mauro and Elena who meet in Bogotá, Colombia and decide, after the birth of their first child (Karina), to the United States. Once there, they make the decision to overstay their tourist visa, to continue sending money back to Elena’s mother (Perla) in Colombia, and have two more children (Nando and Talia), When Mauro is deported, Elena makes the impossible chooses to send her youngest back to Colombia, knowing that she can return to the US when she’s older. And we come into the story with Talia, she is now 15 years old, fighting to escape a (maybe/maybe not warranted) stint in a youth correctional facility and travel across the Colombia to get to the airport in time to make her flight to reunite with her mother and siblings.

Holy ever-loving goodness, this book was spectacular. I cannot believe the amount of history and life and [socio-political] commentary that Engel packs into these 200 pages. I have read epic 500+ pages family sagas that I’ve had much less reader-investment in. The authenticity, the vulnerability and the depth in each of these characters was just so special. While the primary “story” revolves around Talia as the axis for the plot – the daughter who exemplifies the love of the country of birth with the hope for the new country and the straddling of both that, once attempted, cannot be undone – we also get short sections of perspective from each of the family members individually, from Perla to Nando, that give profound insight into their different experiences within their realities. These POVs were woven together with such smooth transition and provided SUCH a look at the fault lines of family and home that come with immigration. It also provided a phenomenal building of the story and connections, literarily, throughout…all the way up to the perfectly done ending. What authenticity, what emotion, what a message!

Other things that I loved included the writing itself. It was a very compelling, short sentences flow, to it that was just right for the story and contributed to the expert crafting and pacing and delivery. Also, a favorite aspect for me here (and really any other book that has this in it) was the integration of Colombian and Muisca folklore stories into the novel, as parallel and enhancement to the present-day story. And the review wouldn’t be complete or honest if I didn’t mention the strength of emotion in the desperate longing for home, while also looking forward to new/more, from all the characters. Engel is able to communicate so clearly the impossibility of the options, the “no right” (and, therefore, “no wrong”), choices that face families, and the unbearable pull from two countries/lives/options with no clear “better.” She addresses this from a breadth of outlooks, within this single family, in such an amazing way.   

This slim book covers relationships and people and situations/realities that stretch over time and space in a way that is so beautiful and precise and difficult and impactful and full. I don’t think I could give it enough hype or praise. I think it’s destined to be a favorite this year and I highly, highly, highly recommend it!

So many passages stuck out to me while reading this wonderful novel: enjoy this selection!

“…people who do horrible things can be victims, and how victims can be people who do horrible things.”

“Maybe […] we are creatures of passage, meant to cross oceans just like the first infectors of our continent in order to take back what was taken.”

“Still, they returned, even as the journey became harder, the hazards more vicious, convinced this land offered more than theirs had already taken from them.”

“Tragic, almost, that she never felt more patriotic than when grieving her country’s victims.”

“Only women knew the strength it took to love men through their evolution to who they thought they were supposed to be.”

“With the apparent logic that removing fathers is the most efficient method for undoing a family, the officers targeted men more often than women.”

“What was it about this country that kept everyone hostage to its fantasy? […] A nation at war with itself, yet people still spoke of it as some kind of paradise.”

“The price of being able to work to provide for the rest of the family was their estrangement.”

“We’re all migrants here on earth.”

“I wish I could see it again, but that’s the thing about being paperless. This country locks you in until it locks you out.”

“I remember wondering what it must feel like to belong to American whiteness and to know you can do whatever you want because nobody you love is deportable. Your worst crime might get you locked up forever but they’ll never take away your claim to this country.”

“Emigration was a peeling away of the skin. An undoing. You wake each morning and forget where you are, who you are, and when the world outside shows you your reflection, it’s ugly and distorted; you’ve become a scorned, unwanted creature.”

“I pictured being saved by some gravitational reversal, sprouting wings that would carry me from this place until I found myself among other migratory beings, bound for somewhere that feels more like home.”

“But every nation in the Americas had a hidden history of internal violence. If just wore different masks, carried different weapons, and justified itself with different stories.”

“…we all have breaking points, we all have regrets and maybe more instances we don’t regret that society tells us we should. I told her I understand what it was to want to create justice to fix an injustice even if my justice could be considered a crime.”

“A life rendered will always be incomplete.”

“And maybe there is no nation or citizenry; they’re just territories mapped in place of family, in place of love, the infinite country.”

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