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Infinite Country

A Novel

LIST PRICE $17.00

A REESE’S BOOK CLUB PICK and INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

WINNER OF THE 2021 NEW AMERICAN VOICES AWARD, LONGLISTED FOR THE 2022 ANDREW CARNEGIE MEDAL, AND A NATIONAL ENDOWMENT OF THE ARTS “BIG READS” SELECTION

“A profound, beautiful novel.” —People * “Poignant.” —BuzzFeed * “A breathtaking story of the unimaginable prices paid for a better life.” —Esquire

This “heartbreaking portrait of a family dealing with the realities of migration and separation” (Time) is “a sweeping love story and tragic drama [and] an authentic vision of what the American Dream looks like in a nationalistic country” (Elle).

I often wonder if we are living the wrong life in the wrong country.

Talia is being held at a correctional facility for adolescent girls in the forested mountains of Colombia after committing an impulsive act of violence that may or may not have been warranted. She urgently needs to get out and get back home to Bogotá, where her father and a plane ticket to the United States are waiting for her. If she misses her flight, she might also miss her chance to finally be reunited with her family.

How this family came to occupy two different countries, two different worlds, comes into focus like twists of a kaleidoscope. We see Talia’s parents, Mauro and Elena, fall in love in a market stall as teenagers against a backdrop of civil war and social unrest. We see them leave Bogotá with their firstborn, Karina, in pursuit of safety and opportunity in the United States on a temporary visa, and we see the births of two more children, Nando and Talia, on American soil. We witness the decisions and indecisions that lead to Mauro’s deportation and the family’s splintering—the costs they’ve all been living with ever since.

Award-winning, internationally acclaimed author Patricia Engel, herself a dual citizen and the daughter of Colombian immigrants, gives voice to all five family members as they navigate the particulars of their respective circumstances. Rich with Bogotá urban life, steeped in Andean myth, and tense with the daily reality of the undocumented in America, Infinite Country “is as much an all-American story as it is a global one” (Booklist, starred review).

Chapter One 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. When the nuns patrolled the hall outside their room, they became masterful mutes, reading lips, inventing their own sign language, moving quiet as cats, creeping like thieves. They listened for the nuns’ footsteps on the level below, sensing vibrations on the wooden floor planks; the search for rule breakers, disruptors their guardians would schedule for punishment at daybreak.

The night of the escape, the girls made purposeful noise so the nun on duty would come tell them to be quiet. Sister Susana was on the nightshift. There were many latecomer nuns at the facility leftover from some other failed life. The rumor was Sister Susana was married until her husband divorced her because she couldn’t have children.

The plan originated with Talia. Or maybe her father deserved the credit. That afternoon she was given rare permission to phone him from the administrative office. Family contact was restricted, since the staff believed they could be a girl’s worst influence. Talia hoped to hear Mauro say he found a way to free her, have her sentence lifted. Paid a fine or convinced one of the rich residents of the apartment building where he worked as a janitor to call in a favor on her behalf.

One never knows who might be listening, especially in a quasi jail for minors, some of whom were murderers on the verge. Talia and Mauro were careful with their words. He’d tried everything, he said. There was nothing more he could do. She understood. Liberating herself from the prison, and the country, would be up to her.

With the help of another girl, she spent an hour ripping bedsheets, twisting them tight as wire, thin as rope. She counted to one thousand in the darkness, then gave the signal for the other girls to start shouting, “Fire! Fire! Fire!”

Sister Susana appeared in the doorway. Talia waited to catch her from behind with a pillowcase over the head. They’d cut breathing holes because they weren’t trying to kill anyone, only to paralyze with fright. Talia held the nun while the others tied her to a chair with the shredded sheets, her breath hot on Talia’s hands as another girl shoved a sock between her teeth to gag screams.

When Talia arrived to the prison school a month earlier, Sister Susana had called her into her office and told the fifteen-year-old she’d studied her life, as if that file of police jottings and psychological assessments on her desk could reveal anything that mattered.

“You’re not like other girls here,” she began.

Yes, I am, Talia wanted to say. She didn’t want to be singled out, treated as an exception if it meant putting the other girls down.

“I believe it was your desire for justice that led you to do an awful thing. But you badly injured a man. You could have blinded him.”

A pause. The rattle of voices in the cafeteria down the hall. She knew Sister Susana was waiting for a response. A denial perhaps. More likely an admission of guilt. The nuns were always scavenging for remorse.

“Do you want to change? With faith and discipline anything is possible.”

Talia was not stupid, so she said yes.

The girls locked Sister Susana in their room with the same key she used against them each night. Nobody would look for her or for the girls until morning. The sisters and lay staff were in charge of their correction and safety. There were security guards on the property, but they were all men, so the nuns made them stay by the front gates to prevent the girls from developing crushes and the guys from trying to seduce them, as if that were a greater menace than an uprising, the girls taking the building under siege as happened all the time in men’s prisons; the illusion that women are safer among women.

The girls returned to their silence. Twelve to a room, the building held four dormitories in different corners of the building, each under the patrol of rotating nuns and staff. They knew the other girls. They had classes and meals with them every day. That night they wouldn’t worry about them, though, and Talia no longer worried about the girls with whom she planned her escape. The careless or slow would jeopardize her freedom. They would flee to boyfriends, friends, or relatives willing to hide them. But she had less than one week to get back to Bogotá, to the airport and out of Colombia.

When they hurried down the service stairs, out through the back garden to run across the sports field and over the concrete wall spiked with broken glass to the road as plotted, she broke away from the cluster, hustling east past the courtyard, through the gate into the forested hills spiraling down toward the valley.

Halting in a shadow before her final bolt, she saw the guards in the watchhouse by the prison driveway, hypnotized by the glare of a small TV. She’d assumed them to be some kind of police. They carried guns, and the girls believed they could chase and shoot them in the legs if they were caught trying to escape.

She ran alone in the fog, through dirt and thicket. It hadn’t rained in a few days, so there was little mud. She heard night creatures. Frogs. Owls. Hissing insects. Through the tree canopy, the rustle of rodents or bats. An hour passed. Maybe two. Lights congealed. An illuminated road laced the forest curtain. She followed until she heard barking dogs warn she’d come too close to the fences of a finca, so she moved down the hill to the street.

If you’d passed her in a car as she walked, small in her baggy captivity uniform, an expression more lost than determined, you might not have thought her a fugitive from the school for bad girls up the mountain, the place said to reform criminals in the making.

She came to a gas station far from any route the other girls would have taken, approached a grandfatherly man in worn jeans filling up his truck tank, and asked for a ride.

“Where are you headed?”

“Anywhere but here.” She only knew the facility was somewhere in Santander and the nearest town was San Vicente de Chucurí.

The man scratched his beard. “A word of advice. Don’t ever tell a stranger you’ll go anywhere.”

“I need to head south. I hope to make it all the way to Tunja, but I’ll take any route to get there.” She didn’t want the man to know she was headed to the capital in case police asked him questions later. At least from Tunja she knew she could find her way home.

The man said he was going to Aratoca but would drop her off in Barichara. Lots of tourists and buses passed through, so she could likely find a way south from there. He wasn’t leaving until sunrise though. He needed to sleep a few hours before getting back on the road.

She didn’t want to return to the woods. Before long, the police would have turned over every vine on the mountain searching for girls. She told the man she’d wait with him if that was okay. When he finished fueling, he pulled the truck into an unpaved lot behind the station and invited her to follow. She waited as he reached to open the passenger door, then dropped his own seat back, leaning into sleep.

“You can do the same,” he said, eyes closed. “I won’t touch you. I give you my word. I have two daughters. Not as young as you, but they’re still my babies.”

Her hesitation was mostly for show. Even if he hadn’t made such a pledge she would have done the same, climbing into the truck, nudging her seat as flat as she could so her head fell below the window line. Disappeared.

It happened behind a cafetería near the El Campín fútbol stadium. Talia went to meet her friend Claudia at the end of her shift so they could see a movie together. She waited in the alley beside the restaurant, smoking a cigarette with a waiter she thought was kind of cute though he sometimes spit when he spoke and used slang she didn’t understand. Two of the kitchen guys were also on break, talking in a corner of the alley near the dumpster.

Talia was bragging that she’d soon be leaving Bogotá for good. Her mother had finally paid for her plane ticket north. She’d meet the other half of her family. See New York and all that cool gringo shit from movies and music videos. How lucky she was, the waiter said, and asked her to write him all about it. She agreed, knowing she never would.

The kitchen guys were crouched on the ground looking at something by the garbage cans. The pavement was covered in disgusting muck and roach cadavers. One of the guys stepped away to go back into the kitchen. Talia saw a small cat where he’d been standing, orange and matted. She and the waiter walked over to get a better look. She was inclined to take it home, convince her father it would make good company for him after she left the country.

It happened in seconds. The kitchen guy who went inside returned with a bowl, walking quickly, and before anyone could ask what the hell, he poured a smoky liquid over the cat. It convulsed under the steam. Flesh cooked. Fur shriveling. Dead without a sound.

“What did you do?” Talia yelled, but the man only laughed, kicking the dead animal like a crumpled can toward the trash bins.

She can only describe what came over her as a subterranean reflex. A pressure to act that coursed through her as if from the earth. She took off through the kitchen door. The waiter and the kitchen guys must have thought she went to complain to Claudia. Instead, she went to the stoves, found a pot of hot cooking oil, took a large bowl off the counter just as the man had done, dipped it into the pot, and felt the steam graze her wrist. She walked out to the alley, and when she was close enough, turned the bowl, aiming the splash at the cat killer, oil dripping from scalp to shoulders, arms to hands. He dropped to the ground howling, blistering, palms and fingers soon swollen as yams.

They didn’t have to restrain her because she didn’t try to run. She knew he wouldn’t die. If she’d meant to kill him she would have heaved the whole pot off the stove or reached for a knife and not just a bowl. The kitchen workers crowded around him and started praying while Talia leaned against the building and waited for whatever would come next.

The ambulance arrived quickly. The police took longer, which was normal. Paramedics wrapped the man—by this time she’d learned his name was Horacio—in a shroud while he fell into shocked delirium. The police handcuffed her and took statements from witnesses. Claudia came out and begged to know what happened while other employees, customers, and street people also tried to get a look.

They held Talia in police custody over the day and night that her crime made the city news. Just a quick mention on the evening TV reports and a few paragraphs in the local section of the print editions. They held her in a dim room with four other girls who said they were arrested on drug charges, though who knew for sure. The girls kept asking what Talia had done to be arrested, and she replied that she didn’t know, until one of the girls pushed Talia’s head into the toilet in the corner, so she told them the truth.

By morning she was released to her father’s supervision, an advantage of being a first-time offender. The press had already moved from the story of the teenage girl burning a man onto actual murders and the political corruption scandal of the week. But she saw the newspaper clippings her father had saved at home, including color photos of charred Horacio, his face fried to a pink, satiny crepe peeking from beneath the bandages. Without revealing her name, journalists wrote about the girl who attacked him in a baseless rage, adding that she would be tried and sentenced as a minor even if her crime demonstrated adult malice. There was no mention of the cat.

Talia considered how people who do horrible things can be victims, and how victims can be people who do horrible things. The witnesses who spoke to reporters said it was as if a lever had been turned in the girl they’d seen around the restaurant many times before waiting for her friend. Even Claudia was quoted saying she couldn’t believe her dear friend was capable of such cruelty. Talia wondered if she meant it. Claudia’s mother was also in the United States, and, like Talia, she was left in Colombia to be raised by her grandmother. They were good students. Their only crimes were occasionally taunting weaker girls in school, that time they shoplifted sunglasses from El Centro Andino, or lying to boys they met from other barrios, making up names and accents that didn’t belong to them.

She’d gone through a series of evaluations when admitted to the facility on the mountain. She was never given any medications. Not even when a doctor asked if she’d ever pondered suicide and she answered, “Who hasn’t?” The therapists and caseworkers were perplexed. How could a girl with no history of delinquency or aggression commit such a violent act? Most of the girls in the prison school had pages of predictive conduct behind them, from drug use, robbery, setting fires, to running with gangs or abusing their siblings or parents. The impulse to hurt Horacio must have come from somewhere, they agreed, but Talia was exemplary at home and school. Her record undeniably clean. They ran down a list of traumas. Rape. Abuse. Neglect. Displacement from the armed conflict. Orphaning. None applied to Talia. She told them her mother was abroad and sent her back to Colombia when she was a baby. But this particular family condition was so common it couldn’t possibly be considered trauma.

Talia rolled the passenger window down to release the dank truck air, then rolled it back up to keep out the bugs. Every hour through the bleed of green hills, the old man pulled over to rag-wipe grime from the windshield. They spoke for stretches, then fell quiet. In the talking part, he told her he used to drive cargo for a yanqui fruit company till accused of skimming shipments. He swore to her he never pocketed a single banana.

“We’re all innocent,” she said. Sometimes she believed this.

After some time, without lifting his eyes from the road, he told her, “Whatever you’re running from must be serious. You’ve got no money and no phone and haven’t asked to borrow mine to let anyone know you’re okay.” When this failed to prompt a confession, he tried again. “You can trust me. I’m a wonder at keeping secrets.”

“My grandmother who raised me is dying of a disease that stole her memory, so now she’s lost in time and everyone is a stranger.” All of this was fact except that her grandmother was already dead and Talia would have given her lungs for Perla to take another breath in this world. “My parents won’t let me visit her out of revenge because she never approved of their marriage. They took my phone and my money. I had to run away just to see her before she leaves this life. She may not recognize me when I arrive, but she will know in some part of her that someone who loves her is with her.”

He brushed a tear from an eye, admitting his greatest regret was having left his wife, the mother of his daughters, for another woman. When he realized his error it was too late. She wouldn’t take him back. He was on his way to Aratoca to see her, still hoping for forgiveness.

“What does your other woman have to say about that?”

“Nothing. She died.”

They drove past signs for towns she’d only ever seen on maps and knew she would never see again. The truck came to a checkpoint, slowing to a stop.

“Military now,” the old man remarked, “but not so long ago it was guerrilla, like there’s a difference. The worst part is these kids have no manners.”

A young camouflaged soldier approached his window. “Where are you headed?”

“Aratoca. We live there.”

He tipped his machine gun toward Talia. “Who’s the girl?”

“My niece.”

The soldier stared at her. “Is that true?”

“He’s my father’s brother.” Her mind flashed with the portrait of another life, one with aunts and uncles and cousins, a life she never knew.

The soldier stepped back, letting the mouth of his weapon slide toward the earth, signaling ahead to the other officers barricading the road to let the truck through. The downhill road smelled of gasoline, smoke, wet soil. She remembered when the police came for her at home. She’d asked if she could pack some clothes, but they’d said there was no need. She’d thought of running then, but there was only one way out of the apartment building and the officers were blocking it. Then the long drive up the mountain. One of six recently sentenced girls carted like livestock, wrists bound by plastic cuffs. The van windows blackened with paint but the scent of the unencumbered earth told her she was far from home.
This reading group guide for Infinite Country includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Patricia Engel. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

Introduction

At the dawn of the new millennium, Colombia is a country devastated by half a century of violence. Only teenagers, Elena and Mauro fall in love against a backdrop of paramilitary and guerilla warfare. A few years later, brutalities continue to ravage their homeland, but the couple now has a young daughter to protect. Their economic prospects grim, they bargain on the American Dream and travel to Houston to send wages back to Elena’s mother, all the while weighing whether to risk overstaying their visas or to return to Bogotá. The decision to ignore their exit dates plunges the expanding family into the precariousness of undocumented status, the threat of discovery menacing a life already strained with struggle. When deportation forces Mauro back to Colombia, Elena sends infant Talia on a plane back to her daughter’s grandmother, splintering the family into two worlds with no certain hope of reunion. Encompassing continents and generations, Infinite Country knits together the accounts of five family members as they struggle to keep themselves whole in the face of the hostile landscapes and forces that threaten to drive them apart.

Topics & Questions for Discussion

1. Infinite Country begins with Talia’s restraint of a prison school nun, her time at the correctional facility a punishment for committing an even more viscerally violent attack. Think about Talia’s decision to throw hot oil on the man who killed the cat and how this choice surfaces at various points. Reflect also on the sentence, “Talia considered how people who do horrible things can be victims, and how victims can be people who do horrible things” (page 8). What role does moral ambivalence play in the novel?

2. For Mauro and Elena’s family of five, the concept of “home” is a fluid one, distinct to each character and dependent on time and place. Choose a character and chart their relationship to Colombia and to the United States. Does it change, and if so, what affects this shift?

3. Although the settings of Infinite Country are primarily urban, Engel writes of lush Colombian landscapes brimming with beasts and allegories, stories in which Mauro finds a particular sense of pride. How do descriptions of North American cities compare, and what emotions can be gleaned from both kinds of imagery?

4. At the end of chapter five, Elena watches airplanes crash into the World Trade Center on September 11 and wonders “if she was hallucinating” (page 37). In what ways might feelings of uncanniness and displacement be heightened for Elena, Mauro, and other members of diaspora?

5. Talia is named after Talia Shire, the actress who plays Adrian Pennino-Balboa of the Rocky franchise. Elena thinks Adrian is “much tougher than the boxer. Only women knew the strength it took to love men through their evolution to who they thought they were supposed to be” (page 44). How does Mauro and Elena’s relationship demonstrate this dynamic? At the beginning of the novel, who does Mauro think he is supposed to be, and who does he end up becoming?

6. As she hitchhikes back to her father in Bogotá, Talia meets three men who agree to help her home. What insights do they share with her about her impending journey north? What does each encounter say about Talia’s character and the way she moves about the world?

7. In her nightmares, Elena finds herself in the midst of the Nevado del Ruiz eruption. Although she usually dreams that she is either trying to pull Omayra Sánchez to safety or she becomes Omayra herself, Elena dreams that she is “a bird or a cloud watching from above” after Mauro is deported (page 85). What does this passage disclose about Elena’s psyche during this difficult period in her life?

8. Between Elena, Perla, Tracy, and the women with whom Elena forms a community in New Jersey, mothers are omnipresent in Infinite Country. How do these maternal energies manifest within Engel’s network of characters?

9. Karina reveals herself to be “the author of these pages” in chapter nineteen (page 127). What impact did this revelation have on your reading of the novel? How did Karina and Nando’s palpable anger affect you?

10. Sometimes, after Mauro would leave his and Elena’s bed at Perla’s to smoke a cigarette on the roof, Elena would follow him and watch. “When she did say his name,” Engel writes, “he met her with an indecipherable expression” (page 166). Imagine what emotions a young Mauro might have been experiencing looking out at the “veined mountain lights” (page 166). Why is his connection to his homeland so fraught?

11. Once Talia lands in the United States, she is happy but overwhelmed by her new life in New Jersey, preoccupied by the sense that she is “waiting for something . . . Another departure? Another arrival?” (page 179). What function does Talia’s plotline have in the context of so many threads of experience, even if she is “no longer sure where her journey began or where it should end” (page 179)?

12. At Infinite Country’s end, the entire family has been reunited, though the threat of separation still looms in an all too possible future. If Karina was to continue writing this “book of our lives” past the novel’s conclusion, what are some everyday struggles and triumphs she might portray (page 190)?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. As a group, pull up a map of the United States and Colombia and trace the routes that lead each character to New Jersey by the final pages of the book. Identify important moments in the novel and attach them to physical locations—you can split up into smaller groups by character or country. When everyone has finished, come back together to discuss how this exercise expands your understanding of how geography influences the emotional inflection points of Infinite Country.

2. Before they leave for Texas, Mauro, Elena, and Karina visit Lake Guatavita, the birthplace of all human life for the Muisca people, in order to “conjure their deepest desire” (page 80). Come up with a list of minor characters in Infinite Country (for example, Tiberio, Aguja, Mister and Madame) and divide yourself into that many groups. Within these smaller clusters, invent a life for these characters beyond the book, and imagine what they might have wished for at Lake Guatavita. Try writing a short passage, or simply come back together into the bigger group to have a larger conversation.

3. Brainstorm a list of other novels wherein immigration figures prominently and discuss how these selections differ from or are similar to Infinite Country. How do style and content affect your emotional reaction? What did you appreciate about Engel’s approach? You can also include other art forms. Would it be difficult to adapt Infinite Country into another medium?

A Conversation with Patricia Engel

As a dual citizen of the United States and Colombia, the daughter of Colombian immigrants, and an award-winning author of the Latin America diaspora, you are intimately familiar with the in-betweenness of the lives you depict in Infinite Country. Did this sense of liminality affect your writing?

The idea of belonging or not belonging is so tied to the idea of country and borders. Very early in my life I was made to feel both excluded and embraced by the two countries and cultures that formed me, and there were others, still, who had no idea what to do with me. Many people feel an urge to define and to categorize in order to understand. I soon realized that who I am does not need to fit into neat boxes and that my essence extends far beyond the parameters of geography and language. This is what I’m always exploring in my work, and how transdiaspora can amplify ancestral connections while diminishing those imposed by one’s dominant surroundings.

You sow the pages of Infinite Country with Andean myths, and they often appear as a point of comparison for dilemmas that the characters encounter in the real world. How did you first learn about the legends you reference in the novel, and do you have a favorite?

My family is full of storytellers, artists, and highly creative people. I loved hearing my grandmother’s fantastical tales of life and people she knew in Colombia that she’d swear were true. For us, imagination and storytelling is a life force. I love the overlap of Traditional Knowledge and myth with what we know to be true in the world through science, and the spaces in between. The word “myth” doesn’t convey the power that stories about the origin of the world and the logic of the universe really have. The stories in Infinite Country came at different moments of discovery in my life, some throughout my childhood from my family members and others while traveling in Colombia, or from research. My favorites are definitely those about the jaguar, the serpent, and the condor.

Though they are siblings, Karina, Nando, and Talia all have individual ties—both state-recognized and not—to the United States and Colombia. How did you decide Talia would be the propulsive focal point of the book? Are there passages about Karina and Nando that didn’t make it into the final version of the manuscript?

It’s hard to say when or how each character came to me. Somehow they announced themselves as a complete family. I knew they’d each be tested in different ways, and Talia’s reunification with her mother and siblings would be at the center. A book goes through many incarnations, so there was a time when Karina’s and Nando’s voices occupied more written terrain. Even though their narratives are brief, they populate the entire novel the way one populates the lives of their loved ones even when apart, be it for hours or for years.

Some major events in the book—Mauro’s deportation and eventual reentry into the United States, for example—occur in just a few paragraphs. How did you weigh which moments to omit and which to include?

I think the impact of an experience doesn’t need to correlate to how much space it takes up in a book. I write impressionistically, in a way I hope imitates the interior life of a character, where trauma and memory often partner to create narrative omissions, reduce moments to their molecular parts rather than ruminate on things that would be otherwise painful. I think this is closer to how people truly tell their own stories. It’s often the reader who expects dissection, even though a character is already being as vulnerable as they can possibly be. For Mauro, what happened to him while detained or deported or returning to the north is not as important as what those events cost him and what that means in the larger picture of his love for his family.

Your book comprises five main characters, two continents, and nearly two decades—all under two hundred pages. Did you have a process for keeping the coiling timelines and multiple settings of Infinite Country in order?

I keep notebooks for everything I write, and I rewrite each draft word by word from the beginning each time. This way the story always feels as fresh and alive as the very first draft and allows me to navigate the leaps in time and space with more freedom, fluidity, and control.

From Horacio to the Frenchman to Elena’s restaurant boss, you populate the periphery of Infinite Country with a few minor characters who seem less than redeemable. Is there one of particular interest to you, one that you might explore further if you had the time? If so, why?

I don’t really consider anyone irredeemable. In my own life, I forgive easily. I’m always interested in the dualities that exist in people, how nobody is all good or all bad, how we can become possessed by our impulses and then how we each have to reconcile who we really are with who we think we are. It’s not always the same person.

As Talia tries to sleep next to Aguja by the river, she remembers something that Mauro said: “This land, with all its beauty, still manages to betray itself” (page 140). How do you think love and betrayal interact in the context of this family’s immigrant experience?

Immigration does sometimes feel like a betrayal. Choosing to leave one’s homeland, choosing another place to make your life and home, can fill a person with guilt and doubt over whether it was the right choice for years and the feeling often never dissipates. Just because you leave a place (or a person) doesn’t mean you love it (or them) any less. At the same time, Colombia is such an extraordinarily beautiful country that has been subject to so much suffering often at its own hands, which brings one to another kind of mourning on behalf of the land and its people. But what Mauro said can be applied to any land, as well as to how we treat the planet.

Is there a moment, sentence, or section in Infinite Country that you find especially beautiful?

There are many moments that are special to me, but a scene that stands out is when Talia and Mauro say goodbye at the airport in Bogotá and she realizes that she doesn’t want to leave. When she asks, “How will they know me?” A simple question that speaks to so much more.

As you were developing and writing Infinite Country, did you turn to any other books or media that inspire you? If so, what are they and how did they influence you?

With Infinite Country, I wanted to write a book that felt both epic and intimate. I love short novels that feel compressed, stormlike intoxications or fever dreams. A few favorites are In the Beginning Was the Sea by Tomás González, The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel García Márquez, and The Lover by Marguerite Duras.

If you could guarantee that readers think more deeply about one idea or concept in your book, what would it be and why?

I hope readers find a place for themselves in the world of Infinite Country, and consider the ways that where we come from, and who we are told to be, determine how we understand or misunderstand humanity and love.
Photograph by Elliot & Erick Jimenez

Patricia Engel is the author of The Veins of the Ocean, winner of the Dayton Literary Peace Prize; It’s Not Love, It’s Just Paris, winner of the International Latino Book Award; and Vida, a finalist for the Pen/Hemingway and Young Lions Fiction Awards, New York Times Notable Book, and winner of Colombia’s national book award, the Premio Biblioteca de Narrativa Colombiana. She is a recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. Her stories appear in The Best American Short Stories, The Best American Mystery Stories, The O. Henry Prize Stories, and elsewhere. Born to Colombian parents, and herself a dual citizen, Patricia is an associate professor of creative writing at the University of Miami.

“An exceptionally powerful and illuminating story about a Colombian family torn apart by war and migration.” —Reese Witherspoon

“Engel movingly captures the shadow lives of undocumented migrants... a profound, beautiful novel.”People Magazine

“[Engel is] a gifted storyteller whose writing shines even in the darkest corners.” The Washington Post

“The prose is serpentine and exciting... [with] intimate and meticulously rendered descriptions of Andean landscapes and mythology, of Colombia’s long history of violence... a compulsively readable novel.” New York Times Book Review

"Patricia Engel is a wonder; her novels are marvels of exquisite control and profound and delicately evoked feeling. Infinite Country knocked me out with its elegant and lucid deconstruction of yearning, family, belonging, and sacrifice. This is a book that speaks into the present moment with an oracle's devastating coolness and clarity." —Lauren Groff, author of Florida and Fates and Furies

"A diamond-sharp novel... With stunning sentences, vivid language, and a pace that will leave you breathless, Infinite Country is steeped in myth and rich in both depth and beauty. There’s a not a single word misplaced in this book. —The Today Show

“Engel’s sweeping novel gives voice to three generations of a Colombian family torn apart by man-made borders... Gorgeously woven through with Andean myths and the bitter realities of undocumented life, Infinite Country tells a breathtaking story of the unimaginable prices paid for a better life.” Esquire

“At once a sweeping love story and tragic drama, Infinite Country… promises to deliver what American Dirt could not: an authentic vision of what the American Dream looks like in a nationalistic country.” Elle

"A gorgeous, moving novel." New York Post 

“Engel’s pacing is breathless—she covers three generations in under 200 pages—but just as frequently gives way to heart- and time-stopping moments. Infinite Country is poised to be one of the most stirring page-turners of the year.” A.V. Club

"Clear, moving, and perfectly calibrated, Infinite Country follows the members of one mixed-immigration status family as they navigate dreams, distance, and the bonds of love and memory. Patricia Engel is a stunning writer with astonishing talents." —Lisa Ko, author of The Leavers

“I’ve admired Engel’s writing a long time, and her new book deepened that admiration. An exquisitely told story of family, war, and migration, this is a novel our increasingly divided country wants and needs to read.” —R.O. Kwon, Electric Literature “Books by Women of Color in 2021”

"Engel's vital story of a divided Colombian family is a book we need to read... The rare immigrant chronicle that is as long on hope as it is on heartbreak.” —*starred* Kirkus Reviews

“Engel’s gaze is intensely intimate but never voyeuristic, and her prose, while sparse and digestible, is full of poignant observations... Perfect for readers of Isabel Allende and Valeria Luiselli, this book offers readers from all walks of life a searingly timely perspective on the challenges faced by those in pursuit of a dream.” Book Reporter

“A memorable line—"It was her idea to tie up the nun.”— launches the narrative with the force of a cannon as it switches back and forth between the present and the past... Told by a chorus of voices and perspectives, this is as much an all-American story as it is a global one.” —*starred* Booklist

“An outstanding novel of migration and the Colombian diaspora... Engel’s sharp, unflinching narrative teems with insight and dazzles with a confident, slyly sophisticated structure. This is an impressive achievement.” *starred* Publishers Weekly

“An intriguing, compact tale, rife with both real-life implications and spiritual significance… Engel does a marvelous job of rendering these characters as individuals, each with a unique story.”BookPage

“Exquisitely written and composed... Heartbreaking and profound, this is a must read.” Boston Magazine

“Crucial... Patricia Engel tells a now eerily recognizable story of a Colombian family’s experiences with migration, mixed statuses and mercy.” Ms. Magazine

"Powerful and poignant, Infinite Country crystallizes the questions we are asking today about migration, family, and our vision of the future. Patricia Engel has written a memorable and brutally honest response to the simplistic notion of what constitutes the American Dream." Maaza Mengiste, author of The Shadow King

"Infinite Country is both a timely and timeless novel. In beautiful prose, Patricia Engel brings to life the courage and complexity of the immigrant experience, illuminating the hardship of life between two countries and two languages, and the search for family and belonging." —Jennifer Clement, author of Gun Love 

“Everything Patricia Engel writes is lit up from the inside with beauty and power. Her prose is gorgeous and her characters are always achingly alive. —Carolina de Robertis, author of Cantoras

“What a breathtaking novel this is, about family, forgiveness, and love while contending with the terrifying unknowns of being an immigrant in a merciless era. There is mercy, however, in every scene of Infinite Country—the kind of profound, understated mercy that manifests in exceptional works of fiction. Patricia Engel is a tremendous writer, and Infinite Country is her best novel yet.” —Idra Novey, author of Those Who Knew 

"A tender, beautifully written, and deeply transporting story springing with love and hope. The questions at the heart of Infinite Country are some of the most urgent of our time: Who is allowed in? How will I be known? What is home? Clever, strong, and born searching, Talia hooked me the second she decided to tie up that nun." —Dina Nayeri, author of The Ungrateful Refugee

“Patricia Engel has an elegant voice. But that finesse has a way of making the shocks and surprises in her fiction more stunning. Infinite Country is her most satisfying work. You won’t be sorry. Well, you will be sorry when it ends.” —Luis Alberto Urrea, author of House of Broken Angels and The Devil's Highway

“A stunning new story that follows a mixed-status Colombian family... This is an urgent look at the devastating effects that separation can wreck on one family.” —She Reads, “Most Anticipated Latinx Books of 2021”

“This is Engel at her best...This is the kind of book that allows you to see and feel the whole issue, offering an intimate perspective of an experience that touches and impacts us all... Infinite Country has us feeling all the emotions!” —Angie Cruz, Undomesticated Mag’s “Most Anticipated for 2021”

“This book broke me in the best way possible... At the heart of Infinite Country is the love of Elena and Mauro, of their family, and of their children trying to make their way... The ending will absolutely move you to tears.” —Alma, “Favorite Books for Winter 2021”

“A poignant depiction of a family trying to survive in a system designed against them." —BuzzFeed

“A heartbreaking portrait of a family dealing with the realities of migration and separation.” Time, “Best Books of March 2021”

“Poignant and realistic... Engel’s strength is in making readers gain a deeper understanding of the family histories behind recent headlines—as well as the country's past generations of immigrants.” —NBC Latino

“[In] vibrant language... Engel brilliantly captures the life of a family split in half and living in two separate worlds... Stretched between two countries, Infinite Country is a moving, authentic story about a family in a new land chasing a complicated dream.” LatinxSpaces

“At only 200 pages, Infinite Country can be read in one sitting, but its effects on you will far outlast a vacation tan.” O Magazine, “Best Beach Reads of 2021”

“A literary masterpiece... Patricia Engel tells the urgent story of a mixed-immigration-status family as they navigate their lives together and apart.” goop

Infinite Country vibrates with the fissures of a divided America and a divided family... in a narrative that feels both specific and universal.” Boca Magazine

“Brilliant” Remezcla

“Timely, elegant.” Good Morning America 

“[a] powerful and intimate account of life in the diaspora.” Refinery29, “Best New Books of 2021” 

“Another gorgeous and devastating Pan-American story of exile, yearning, and loss.” Dan Sheehan, “Lit Hub’s Most Anticipated Books of 2021” 

“A moving novel.” AARP, 2021 Winter Preview

“To read this story is to become entrenched in the love, fears, and desperations of Talia, Elena, Mauro, and their family…No matter where you stand regarding immigration, Engel reminds us that behind the statistics, the papers, and the stamps, there are actual people and families who breathe, bleed, and fight to survive. Amerie, Grammy-nominated singer and New York Times-bestselling author

“Lyrical... Weaving together the different experiences of each family member, Infinite Country offers a poignant account that blends both tragedy and victory.” The Glossary (UK)

“In distilled, propulsive prose…Engel depicts how the vicissitudes of the immigration system don’t just separate members of a family physically; they also create an emotional rift… The American dream exerts a magnetic pull in [Infinite Country].” America Magazine

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