Spoiler Alert- This review will contain some spoilers about the plot and characters of the story. Please continue reading at your own discretion.
Infinite Country by Patricia Engel is the story of a family separated in two different countries, the United States and Colombia. Talia has broken out of a juvenile detention center for girls and is trying to get back to Bogota where a ticket to the U.S. and a chance to reconnect with the mother await her. This story is not just about Talia, but also details how her parents, Mauro and Elena, met and what led them to immigrating.
Talia did not have much time to go back to Bogota before her plane departed. After she broke out of the detention center, she had to find her way back to the city on her own. This part made me nervous for her because I cannot think of any place where a teenager is truly safe to travel many miles by themselves. Talia had taken the time to thoroughly think through her escape and I was particularly surprised with her interactions with the Frenchman. I had thought she was too trusting to let herself be alone with him, but she already seemed to have a plan.
Talia was a little apprehensive about leaving Colombia and I can understand why. She and her father had a strong relationship and she would be leaving him behind with no certainty of seeing him again. She also felt a strong connection to Colombia and a sense of kinship with her fellow Colombians that she would not find in the U.S. On the other hand, she yearned to be close to her mother and siblings. I could understand how a decision like this would be extremely difficult to make for a teenager.
Naturally, I was curious of how the family got separated in the first place. I really enjoyed reading Mauro and Elena’s story. Having some background on Mauro was especially valuable as it gave me more insight on what influenced his decision-making throughout the story. He experienced so much pain from the very beginning of his life and still had so much love in his heart for his family. He really wanted to build a great life for them, but not having citizenship was a huge obstacle. The family had to find strangers to rent rooms from and worked different jobs for low wages. They met other undocumented immigrants who were able to watch the kids while they were at work or help them find jobs. They all had different backgrounds but shared the same goal of wanting a new life.
I did not think of the setting for this story beyond the locations. Mauro and Elena’s first daughter, Karina, was born in 2000. They immigrated when she was still a baby and were in the U.S. during September 11th. There was a lot of tension after this attack and some of this tension was directed at the young family.
In South Carolina, they became used to stares, absorbing hisses from locals of Go back to where you came from while Mauro and Elena pretended not to understand.Page 40
Engel shows readers a little bit of how Talia’s siblings feel being away from their father and sister. Karina and her brother, Nando, experienced their share of racism and did not get to enjoy the carefree adolescence of their peers. It was ironic how the family immigrated to provide their children with a better life, only for the kids to feel isolated and miserable. Elena was not aware of how sad they were, which did not surprise me. Unfortunately, teachers and staff were unable to have direct conversations with Elena because of the language barrier. Then, the kids chose not to bring up any of their problems to her. I assumed it was because they did not want to upset her or felt that nothing would change even if she knew.
Although this story is short, Engel filled each page with emotion. I thought Infinite Country showed the complexities of family, love, loss, and longing. I loved seeing how Engel was able to give so much depth to each character. I quickly became absorbed in the individual story of each family member and wondered how they would make it through so many heartbreaks.
This was an incredible depiction of one family’s situation, I loved the way it moved from Mauro to Elena and Talia, sharing parts of their journey and story and how their circumstance came about. I was so fearful of their continued separation throughout and was so relieved that the author spared us that endless pain, given the experience of so many in similar situations. And the tug of home, those stories, myths, roots, we are left not really knowing which is the better way, just observing and feeling deeply their situation, the struggle inherent in all of it.