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Book Review: 'Infinite Country' Is An Exquisite Look At The Immigrant Experience

Novelist Patricia Engel was born to Colombian parents. Her newest novel, Infinite Country, is a wonder of storytelling no doubt inspired by, if not her own upbringing, then the stories of countless immigrant families who seek a better life in the United States.

The novel opens with Talia, a nervy 15-year-old who breaks out of a reform school in the Andes mountains. She was sent there after committing an impulsive—but understandable—act of violence. Talia is American-born but raised in Colombia—for reasons that become clear as the story unfolds—and she desperately wants to get back to the United States to reunite with her mother and siblings.

Another storyline follows Talia’s mother, Elena, who is struggling to make a life for herself and her two older children. Yet another subplot follows Talia’s father, who is separated from his family and eventually deported, and who lives constantly with fear and regret. The author weaves these stories and others into an elegant tapestry that reflects the brutal realities of being undocumented in America.

Infinite Country is the latest in a long line of novels focused on the U.S.’s attitude toward Latinx immigrants. Engel uses news events like 9/11 to pinpoint specific times and places in her story, but one thing becomes clear: The struggle is timeless. Every day in America, immigrants huddle in basements, scramble for work, deal with mistreatment, live in shadows, occupy two worlds. This novel, in less than 200 pages, tells the tale exquisitely.

Suzanne Perez is a longtime journalist covering education and general news for KMUW and the Kansas News Service. Suzanne reviews new books for KMUW and is the co-host with Beth Golay of the Books & Whatnot podcast. Follow her on Twitter @SuzPerezICT.