Infinite Country follows a mixed-status family over decades who are divided between Colombia and the US. There have been many outstanding books written about families immigrating, and this one has a tone to it that opened up a few things I haven’t thought about before.
The story starts with a unique hook and opening line to the story “It was her idea to tie up the nun,” which sets up a little suspense to the story with some questions I wanted the answers to. Talia experiences a horrific act and retaliates. It felt more like it was used for shock value, or maybe I was just too shocked to pick up on its meaning. She is then sent to a nun-ran reform school in the Colombian mountains.
In tightly woven swift chapters, the story moves from Talia’s parents, Mauro and Elena’s earlier relationship, their decisions to leave or stay, and their fight to survive with Talia’s journey from escaping the reform school and her race against time to catch her flight to reunite with her family in the US. Twenty years of family history are told as she rushes to catch that plane.
What makes this one a bit different is that it not only explores what life was like for the characters with their struggles with immigration laws, poverty, belonging, and racism. It also shows us their doubt, uncertainty due to their fear for their safety. It explores the misconception that people who leave their homeland is a “simple decision for a better life.” I could feel their uncertainty, loneliness, doubt they made the right decision, and struggle with leaving a part of themselves behind. I questioned if they did as we see the danger, poverty, hate, and violence they face in the US that is very real and relevant today.
The other thing that makes this one different is the story’s structure. Pacing can be everything in a story, and here it is done impressive and unique. In under 200 pages, Patricia Engel packs events, themes, and emotions into the story to create a page-turner that never slowed down for me. She covers years in only a few pages that stretch over 20 years. There is not much back and forth dialogue, and we see into the character’s life through short, vivid paragraphs. A lot happens to Elena in the US, without it ever feeling like drama. Engel achieves this through Elena’s inner thoughts, and we see what is important to know and to provoke an emotional response rather than creating scenes. We don’t get much time with any character however, Patricia Engel manages to create compelling characters that allowed me to feel with them. Talia does get some dialogue and descriptive scenes that enhance the story with descriptions of landscapes, mythology, and with Colombia’s long history of violence.
Elena did at times feel like a saint rather than a vulnerable, strong female character who had to make tough decisions for her children, and I was worried it was leaning towards an issue book. Still, I did think it was well done because it did open up some thought-provoking questions that I hadn’t thought about before. I liked how when Elena was challenged, she champions reproductive rights.
The narrators shift towards the end, and at first, it felt awkward, and I was confused by it. Then it starts to flow easier while building up to a tear-jerking ending!! I highly recommend it.