To someone who grew up reading the giants of the Latin American Boom generation in translation — Vargas Llosa, García Márquez — it was surprising that Patricia Engel’s third novel, Infinite Country, was not translated from the Spanish: The book sounds like Edith Grossman but with a borrowed amp and feedback. The prose is serpentine and exciting as it takes the scenic route to nowhere. There is a compliment in that. Her writing sets out to be majestic, and it is, like an overflowing soufflé ... The most unforgettable scenes in the novel are the intimate and meticulously rendered descriptions of Andean landscapes and mythology, of Colombia’s long history of violence ... The novel captures the romance of the immigrants’ first days in America with a visceral tenderness ... This is a compulsively readable novel that will make you feel the oxytocin of comfort and delusion. The ending reads like child-of-immigrant fan fiction. I’d hire Engel to ghostwrite my nightmares.
As shocking as all this can be, Engel is no literary Tarantino, delighting in graphic violence that points to itself and little else. A gifted storyteller whose writing shines even in the darkest corners, Engel understands that the threat of violence is a constant in people’s lives and that emotional acts of abuse can be as harmful as physical ones ... At its best, Engel’s novel interrogates the idea of American exceptionalism, though the term never appears in the book ... Infinite Country falters only when, late in the book, Engel hands over the narration to Karina and Nando in a well-intentioned if discordant gesture to bring these previously unexamined characters into the foreground ... the shift in perspective and a surprise twist deflate what had been airtight storytelling ... It’s not a fatal error. Engel brings the story of Elena and Mauro, and that of Talia’s quest for freedom, to a satisfying close.
Infinite Country is all about making escapes from one place to another, and about what is left behind ... a beautifully written and humane book, and an uncannily timely one. In the news we see photographs of immigrant families separated, of children crossing borders alone, and we look away. Engel gives them faces and names and hearts that can be broken, and sometimes mended.
... an intriguing, compact tale, rife with both real-life implications and spiritual significance ... joins a growing category of fiction about the U.S. and its attitude toward Latinx immigrants, and Engel stands out as an especially gifted storyteller who elevates this saga through the use of Andean folk tales. She also heightens our interest by shifting the novel’s perspective to Talia’s sister in New Jersey more than midway through the book, and her voice adds a new dimension to the tale ... Engel does a marvelous job of rendering these characters as individuals, each with a unique story.
Infinite Country is less concerned with Talia's quest to reunite with her family, though, than with the choices and circumstances — and cruel immigration policies — that led to their initial separation. In swift chapters that bounce between characters and chronologies, Engel moves from Talia's parents' courtship to their emigration to their forced split, and traces their fight afterwards to survive as individuals, and as a family. Engel packs a lot of event and emotion into a slim novel ... Infinite Country relies more on detailed narrative summary than on conventional scenes. Engel sometimes lingers in her characters' inner lives, but only Talia gets a scenic outer one ... This is an unusual choice, and an impressive one ... To be clear, Infinite Country is not meant to center on character. Its fragmented, summary-focused form clearly prioritizes ideas — how do we define home? Family? Safety? — above all else. But these ideas aren't abstractions, and Engel's characters aren't flat. Nuanced, dimensional characters exist to provoke emotional responses, not intellectual ones, which tells me Engel is out for both. If she let her novel descend from the air more often, or if she'd chosen to cover time in chunks rather than swaths, the ideas and characters in Infinite Country might have coexisted more fully, and better amplified each other as a result.
Unprecedented as certain aspects of the Trump administration policy was, families such as the one at the heart of Patricia Engel’s new novel, Infinite Country, have been routinely ripped apart by US immigration policies for the better part of a century. In her latest novel, Engel, whose fiction has won an array of literary prizes, revisits her own Colombian parents’ roots in an absorbing story of displacement, detention, and deportation that forcefully examines what unites a family beyond the divisions borders and policies forge ... The novel’s accounts of the precarity undocumented immigrants face are some of the most heart-rending pages in the novel ... While the entire novel is carefully constructed, near the end of Infinite Country several narrative decisions leave something to be desired ... Despite the ending’s narrative deficiencies, the bittersweet denouement — one that few families even reach — serves as a powerful reminder that these travails not only rarely have a 'happy ending,' but that the cycles of generational trauma created by forced family separation are difficult, if not impossible, to overcome.
The immigrant’s story might be well-traveled ground, but Engel...constructs a layered narrative outlining how the weight of every seemingly minor choice systematically cements into a crushing predicament ... Lively folktales of the Muisca peoples punctuate Engel’s remarkable novel as it illuminates the true costs of living in the shadows. Told by a chorus of voices and perspectives, this is as much an all-American story as it is a global one.
... a book we need to read ... surprising narrative shifts are made to include the voices of Talia's siblings, raised in the U.S. This provides interesting new perspectives, but it is a little awkward to break the fourth wall so late in the book. Attention, TV and movie people: This story is made for the screen. The rare immigrant chronicle that is as long on hope as it is on heartbreak.
... an outstanding novel of migration and the Colombian diasporae ... Engel’s sharp, unflinching narrative teems with insight and dazzles with a confident, slyly sophisticated structure. This is an impressive achievement.