Patricia Engel’s Infinite Country (Avid Read Press, 2021) is a brief but bittersweet snapshot into the lives of a mixed-status Columbian family divided by borders.  While the novel is well-written and a very important read, it was a disappointing display of missed opportunities for this reader. As some of you know, I was an immigration attorney and worked primarily with undocumented individuals. I still lose sleep over some of my clients, their beautiful families, and the Orders of Removal I could not stop. In many ways, this novel was triggering because the family’s situation mirrored so many of the case files I had wept over and still think about years later.  Pushing that visceral reaction aside, the main missed opportunity is in the two sisters – Talia, born in the US but raised in Columbia, and Karina, born in Columbia but raised in the US.

We get a lot of Talia.  When the novel opens, Talia is being held at a facility for teen girls as part of her sentence for an assault.  She orchestrates her escape, and the novel charts her return to Bogota and her father; she has a flight to join her mother and siblings in the US, and she can’t miss it.  This escape and journey home is complex, with layers of resilience, fear, determination, and a disjointed feeling of belonging but not belonging.  These were my favorite sections.

While we get some Karina, it’s not nearly enough. Karina was born in Columbia and entered the US with her parents under a visa.  When the visa expired, they overstayed and became ghosts.  The slightest indiscretion could have them deported.  Karina remembers when her father was deported and what that did to her mother.  Karina would be eligible for DACA, but that isn’t permanent, and she didn’t apply because she was afraid to reveal her undocumented existence for fear of exposing herself and her mother and being deported.  (This was a valid fear under certain administrations.)  Like Talia, their brother, Nando, was born in the US and will be able to petition for their mother when he’s 21, but Karina’s options are limited.  She’s undocumented in the only country she knows, and a stranger to the country she risks being sent back to. Her story is part of why immigration reform should be a no-brainer, and her sections, while limited, drip with resilience, fear, determination, and a disjointed feeling of belonging but not belonging.

“Don’t tell me I’m undocumented when my name is tattooed on my father’s arm.”

In short, I think it’s an important novel, but I may have been too close to the subject matter. The mythology is beautiful, and I would have loved to have seen more of it. I would have liked more flesh on Talia’s experiences growing up with her grandmother while her father becomes sober and knowing her mother and siblings are in the US. And I certainly wanted more Karina.

Should you read this novel? Yes.

Will the people who need to read this novel the most ever pick it up?  Doubtful.

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