In this story of two countries and one mixed immigration-status family, 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.
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.
... 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.