Book Review: Patricia Engel’s Infinite Country is a timely read that justifies the hype

Talia is on the run. The mastermind behind a plan to escape from a home for juvenile delinquents, her end goal is simple. Reunite with her father and make it to Bogotá Airport in time for her flight to the US. And waiting for her on the other side? Her estranged mother and siblings, and the promise of a whole new life together.

Weaving the history of her parents, Mauro and Elena, with Talia’s road trip home, Infinite Country is the story of a family divided by borders and birth right. It’s a timely read, navigating as it does the repeal of DACA in the US, the agony caused by border separations, and the grim reality of the so-called American Dream.

Packing this short novel with expressive prose, laden with captivating and startling imagery, Patricia Engel accomplishes an astonishing amount in barely two hundred pages. And, as the daughter of Colombian immigrants, she devotes as much time to Colombia and its sights, sounds, and mythologies, as she does to the mixed-status family at the centre of her tale.

Relying heavily on prose and summary gives Engel the ability to cover vast swathes of time and distance in just a few short pages. It’s a bold choice, and one that comes with plenty of pros and cons. It suits the shorter page count, that much is certain; and there’s plenty of opportunity for Engel to flex her considerable talent for lyrical and engaging description. But when you cover so much history in a short space of time, and don’t allow for at least a little back and forth dialogue, the characters are, inevitably, the ones that suffer.

This was particularly prevalent when Engel decided to give a fourth and fifth voice to Talia’s siblings – the undocumented Karina and the US born Nando. Whilst, the writing remains as strong as ever, their perspectives are welcomed into the narrative a little too close to the end, and the sudden shift is a little jarring. Space is limited in Infinite Country (despite what the title might suggest), and, unfortunately, it sees Karina and Nando reduced to cameos in the larger story of Talia and her parents.

That said, Infinite Country is a wonderful read. The story is equal parts engaging and enraging, heart-achingly grim and gloriously hopeful. Building to a tear jerking conclusion (and no, I won’t say if they’re happy or sad tears), this one more than justifies the hype.

Patricia Engel’s Infinite Country is out now, published by Simon & Schuster

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my review.
Review originally published by The AU Review on 10/07/21
View my review policies here

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