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Infinite Country by Patricia Engel - Review, Summary, Analysis & Facts

Infinite Country by Patricia Engel

Table of Contents:

1. Book Details

Full Title:

Infinite Country: A Novel


Literary Fiction


Historical Fiction

Number of Pages:

256 pages

Author - Who Wrote?

Patricia Engel

Publication Date:

March 2, 2021

Original Language:



-> Bogotá, Colombia

-> United States (Houston, Texas; South Carolina; Delaware; New Jersey)

-> Colombian Countryside:

Point of View:

The narrative is presented in a third-person limited point of view, offering insights into the thoughts, emotions, and experiences of multiple characters at different points in the story.


Elena, Mauro, Karina, Nando & Talia

2. Synopsis

"Infinite Country" follows the journey of a Colombian family fractured by deportation, offering an intimate perspective on the challenges faced by undocumented immigrants. At the turn of the millennium, Elena and Mauro, teenage sweethearts, seek refuge from the violence in Bogotá and decide to build a life in the United States. As their family grows, their undocumented status becomes a constant threat, forcing them to navigate the complexities of living in the shadows.

The narrative weaves between past and present, unraveling the stories of Mauro and Elena, as well as their children—Karina, Nando, and Talia. When Mauro is deported, Elena must make a difficult choice that further divides the family. The novel explores themes of identity, allegiance, and the profound impact of immigration policies on familial bonds.

Set against the backdrop of Bogotá and steeped in Andean myth, "Infinite Country" portrays the challenges and triumphs of a mixed-status family. Each character grapples with their place in two worlds, reflecting on the past, present, and the dreams they pursue, weighted by the consequences of deferred aspirations. Patricia Engel, herself a daughter of Colombian immigrants, brings a deeply personal and empathetic perspective to this lyrical and urgent novel.

3. Summary

Patricia Engel's "Infinite Country" is a poignant and timely novel that delves into the intricate tapestry of immigration, family, and the elusive quest for belonging. The narrative unfolds against the backdrop of Colombia and the United States, navigating the lives of a family fractured by deportation and the perpetual struggle to reunite.

The story begins with fifteen-year-old Talia's daring escape from a correctional facility in the mountains of Colombia. Her destination is clear – the United States, where her estranged mother and siblings reside. The novel weaves between Talia's perilous journey and the backstory of her parents, Mauro and Elena.

Mauro and Elena, young and in love, embark on a journey from Bogotá to Houston, driven by the harsh realities of a violent and economically strained Colombia. Their initial plan is to stay for six months, earn U.S. dollars, and return home. However, circumstances unfold, and their undocumented status becomes a shadow that looms over their evolving family.

Engel intricately explores the complexities of immigration, portraying the challenges faced by Mauro and Elena as they navigate the labyrinth of U.S. immigration policies. The novel skillfully highlights the nuanced decisions and consequences that lead to Mauro's deportation and the subsequent splintering of the family.

Central to the narrative are the themes of identity, family, and the indomitable spirit of survival. As Talia embarks on her journey, readers are drawn into the heart-wrenching choices made by Mauro and Elena. The novel explores the tension between the past and the future, the ties that bind and the fractures that threaten to tear a family apart.

Engel's storytelling is imbued with empathy, capturing the raw and unfiltered emotions of each family member. Through sparse and evocative language, she addresses the fundamental questions of the immigration experience – the decision to leave home, the pursuit of the American dream, and the relentless challenges faced by undocumented individuals.

The narrative is not only a chronicle of physical journeys but also a rich exploration of cultural and emotional landscapes. Mauro, deeply connected to the indigenous Muisca tradition, weaves myths of Colombia's past, emphasizing a time when borders were nonexistent. This thematic thread adds a layer of historical and cultural richness to the novel.

The characters' voices resonate with authenticity, each offering a unique perspective on the immigrant experience. Elena's observations about her children fearing the police provide a stark reminder of the pervasive anxieties within immigrant communities. Engel masterfully employs a blend of perspectives, incorporating first-person narratives from Karina and Nando, Talia's siblings, which adds depth to their individual struggles and reflections.

The novel's language oscillates between plain, unadorned prose and moments of elevated lyricism. When Engel chooses to elevate the language, it becomes a powerful tool to convey the characters' profound emotions. Elena's love for her children, described as "marrowed beyond bloodlines," reflects a cosmic and timeless connection.

"Infinite Country" not only captures the contemporary challenges faced by immigrants in the United States, particularly during the Trump administration, but also transcends its immediate context. It prompts readers to reflect on the deeper, perennial questions about borders, belonging, and the human desire for unity.

Reading the novel against the backdrop of real-world events, such as the storming of the U.S. Capitol, adds a layer of urgency and relevance. Nando's reflection on American whiteness and privilege resonates as a poignant commentary on the socio-political landscape.

While the novel is undeniably rooted in its time, Engel's narrative intention goes beyond merely addressing the current state of immigration affairs. She challenges readers to confront the historical and systemic dimensions of border politics and the perennial struggles of families yearning to be together.

"Infinite Country" is a tapestry of human resilience, love, and the relentless pursuit of familial bonds. It skillfully navigates the complexities of immigration, portraying the indomitable spirit of those who straddle two worlds. Engel's storytelling is both urgent and timeless, inviting readers to engage with the profound questions at the heart of the immigrant experience.

As the novel unfolds, it becomes evident that calling it "of our time" would be a reductive characterization. Engel's narrative transcends temporal boundaries, inviting readers to grapple with the enduring question: How can one family's wish to be together be too much to ask for? "Infinite Country" is not just a novel about immigration; it's a resonant exploration of the human quest for connection and belonging across the landscapes of time and borders.

4. Analysis


Immigration and Displacement:

The overarching theme revolves around the challenges and consequences of immigration, exploring the experiences of a Colombian family navigating life in the United States, marked by undocumented status and the threat of deportation.

Family and Identity:

The novel delves into the complexities of family dynamics and the impact of separation on individual identities. Each family member grapples with questions of belonging, cultural identity, and the pursuit of a place to call home.

Cultural Heritage and Myth:

The exploration of indigenous Muisca traditions serves as a thematic anchor, emphasizing the characters' connection to their cultural roots and the enduring influence of mythology on their lives.

Deportation and Its Aftermath:

The narrative examines the profound repercussions of Mauro's deportation on the family, shedding light on the emotional, psychological, and practical challenges faced by those affected by forced separation.

Human Resilience and Hope:

Despite the hardships, the novel carries a thread of resilience and hope. The characters demonstrate the capacity to endure and seek connection, emphasizing the human spirit's ability to persist even in the face of adversity.


The Kaleidoscope:

Symbolizing the fragmented nature of the family, the kaleidoscope reflects the intricate patterns of their lives, shaped by migration, separation, and the quest for unity.

The Metronome:

Acting as a rhythmic metaphor, the metronome represents the passage of time and the ticking urgency in the characters' lives, particularly Talia's race against time to reunite with her family.

Andean Mythology:

The incorporation of Muisca myths serves as a symbol of cultural heritage and resilience, providing a lens through which the characters interpret their experiences and navigate their identities.

Key Points:

Nonlinear Narrative:

The novel employs a non-linear structure, weaving past and present to construct a layered narrative that mirrors the complexities of the characters' lives and histories.

Individual Perspectives:

Through the voices of Talia, Karina, Nando, Mauro, and Elena, the narrative offers diverse perspectives, allowing readers to understand the individual struggles, choices, and perspectives within the family.

Deportation and Detention:

The narrative critically explores the impact of deportation and detention on individuals and families, shedding light on the harsh realities faced by undocumented immigrants.

Historical/Cultural Context:

Colombian Civil Unrest:

The backdrop of the Colombian civil war and social unrest provides a historical context that influences the characters' decisions to seek safety and opportunity in the United States.

Muisca Indigenous Culture:

The novel draws on the rich cultural heritage of the Muisca indigenous people, offering insights into their mythology and traditions, which shape the characters' sense of identity.


Bogotá, Colombia:

The narrative begins in Bogotá, capturing the city's urban life and setting the stage for the family's journey from Colombia to the United States.

United States (Houston, Texas, South Carolina, Delaware, New Jersey):

The varied settings in the U.S. reflect the family's itinerant life as they move in pursuit of economic opportunities and navigate the challenges of being undocumented immigrants.



The mother figure who grapples with the responsibilities of caring for her children in the absence of Mauro, facing economic pressures and personal hardships.


The father, deported to Colombia, whose absence casts a shadow over the family. His journey involves struggles with alcoholism and attempts to reunite with his loved ones.

Talia, Karina, and Nando:

The children, each navigating their own challenges and identities. Talia's quest to reunite with her family forms a central narrative arc.


Elena's mother, who plays a crucial role in raising Talia and represents a link to Colombian traditions and family support.


A character in New Jersey who provides a temporary haven for the family, highlighting the network of relationships formed in their journey.

Narrative Structure and Temporal Layers:

Engel employs a non-linear narrative structure, weaving together past and present, as well as multiple perspectives. This choice mirrors the complexity of the characters' lives, emphasizing that their stories are not isolated but interconnected across time and generations. The temporal layers contribute to the novel's richness, inviting readers to piece together the family's history.

The Weight of Deportation:

At the core of the novel is the impact of Mauro's deportation on the family. Engel skillfully explores the emotional and psychological toll of forced separation, portraying the reverberations that extend beyond Mauro to Elena and their children. The narrative does not shy away from depicting the harsh realities faced by families affected by deportation, challenging readers to confront the human cost of immigration policies.

Cultural Heritage and Myth:

Mauro's connection to the indigenous Muisca tradition serves as a thematic anchor, highlighting the rich cultural heritage of Colombia. The infusion of myths and ancestral stories adds a layer of depth to the narrative, emphasizing a time when borders were fluid and communities were connected. This exploration of cultural identity resonates throughout the novel, offering a counterpoint to the rigid borders and divisions faced by the characters.

Individual Struggles Within a Collective Experience:

Each family member grapples with their individual challenges, reflecting the diversity of experiences within immigrant families. The novel provides nuanced perspectives through the voices of Talia, Karina, and Nando. Their distinct journeys underscore the personal sacrifices and choices that shape their identities. Engel avoids presenting a monolithic portrayal of the immigrant experience, acknowledging the multiplicity of stories within a larger narrative.

Symbolism and Metaphor:

The novel is replete with symbolism and metaphor, contributing to its lyrical and evocative quality. The title itself, "Infinite Country," suggests a boundless and expansive terrain that transcends geopolitical borders. Engel employs vivid imagery, such as the kaleidoscope and the metronome, to symbolize the fragmented nature of the family and the rhythmic persistence of time. These literary devices add layers of meaning to the narrative, inviting readers to engage with the text on a symbolic level.

Intersectionality and Socio-Political Commentary:

"Infinite Country" incorporates elements of socio-political commentary, particularly concerning immigration policies in the United States. The novel is situated within a specific historical context, addressing the challenges faced by undocumented individuals, detention centers, and the broader socio-political climate. Engel navigates these themes with a delicate balance, intertwining the personal and the political to create a narrative that is both intimate and socially relevant.

Human Resilience and Hope:

Despite the hardships faced by the characters, the novel is imbued with a sense of human resilience and hope. The family's pursuit of connection and belonging becomes a testament to the enduring strength of the human spirit. Engel avoids succumbing to a narrative of despair, presenting moments of tenderness, love, and the possibility of healing. The hopeful undertones serve as a counterbalance to the challenges depicted in the story.

Universal Themes with Contemporary Relevance:

While rooted in the specific experiences of a Colombian family, "Infinite Country" addresses universal themes that resonate across cultures and borders. The quest for home, the yearning for family, and the challenges of defining one's identity are themes that transcend geographical boundaries. This universality contributes to the novel's accessibility and relevance for readers from diverse backgrounds.

5. Review

Patricia Engel's "Infinite Country" is a poignant and intricately woven tapestry that delves into the complexities of immigration, family, and the relentless pursuit of belonging. With its lyrical prose and deeply human characters, this novel is a compelling exploration of the immigrant experience and its profound impact on the familial bonds that tie us together.


Highly recommended for readers who appreciate literary fiction that transcends borders, "Infinite Country" is a must-read for those interested in thought-provoking narratives that navigate the intricate intersections of culture, identity, and the immigrant journey.

For Whom:

  1. Readers of Literary Fiction: If you enjoy literary fiction that beautifully combines storytelling with profound thematic exploration, this book deserves a spot on your reading list.

  2. Those Interested in Immigration Narratives: "Infinite Country" offers a unique perspective on the immigrant experience, shedding light on the challenges, sacrifices, and resilience of those who navigate life in a new country.

  3. Explorers of Family Dynamics: The novel intricately dissects the dynamics of a family separated by borders, making it a compelling read for those fascinated by the intricate interplay of familial relationships.

  4. Fans of Multigenerational Stories: With its nonlinear narrative and diverse perspectives from different family members, this book appeals to readers who enjoy multigenerational sagas that span continents and decades.

Why It's Worth Reading:

  1. Nuanced Exploration of Immigration: Engel's narrative goes beyond the surface, offering a nuanced exploration of the immigration experience, portraying both the triumphs and the heart-wrenching challenges faced by those seeking a better life.

  2. Rich Cultural Detail: The incorporation of Muisca mythology and Colombian cultural nuances adds depth to the narrative, creating a vivid backdrop that enhances the reader's understanding of the characters' identities.

  3. Character-Centric Storytelling: Each character is meticulously crafted, allowing readers to connect with their individual struggles, aspirations, and the complex web of emotions that bind them together. The narrative unfolds through multiple perspectives, offering a 360-degree view of the family's journey.

  4. Themes of Resilience and Hope: Despite the hardships depicted, the novel carries an undercurrent of resilience and hope. It beautifully captures the indomitable human spirit and the capacity to find strength even in the face of adversity.

  5. Relevant Sociopolitical Commentary: "Infinite Country" doesn't shy away from addressing the sociopolitical realities of immigration policies, making it a relevant and timely read that prompts reflection on the broader issues surrounding borders and belonging.

6. About the Author

Patricia Engel, an acclaimed Colombian-American author, has distinguished herself through her literary contributions that delve into the intricacies of immigration, identity, and the human experience. Born to Colombian parents, Engel's personal background infuses her work with a unique and authentic perspective on the challenges faced by immigrant families.

Engel's writing career gained recognition with her debut novel, "Vida," which was awarded the International Latino Book Award for Best First Book. Following this success, she continued to make waves in the literary world with works such as "It's Not Love, It's Just Paris" and "The Veins of the Ocean." Engel's storytelling prowess lies in her ability to weave intricate narratives that capture the complexities of human relationships against the backdrop of diverse cultural landscapes.

Her literary achievements extend beyond novels, with Engel contributing thought-provoking essays and short stories to esteemed publications like The New York Times, Boston Review, and A Public Space. Patricia Engel has become a prominent voice in contemporary literature, exploring themes that resonate with readers across borders and cultures.

In recognition of her outstanding contributions, Engel has received prestigious awards, including the Dayton Literary Peace Prize and a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. Her accolades not only celebrate her talent as a writer but also affirm the importance of her narratives in fostering a deeper understanding of the shared human experience.

As a dual citizen herself, Patricia Engel continues to be a trailblazer in the literary world, offering readers compelling stories that bridge the gaps between cultures, illuminate the immigrant journey, and provide a nuanced exploration of the universal quest for belonging.

7. Book Club Questions

  1. Family Dynamics: The novel revolves around the complexities of family relationships. How does the theme of family play out in different characters' lives? How does the family's immigration status impact their relationships?

  2. Cultural Identity: The characters in the story grapple with questions of identity, belonging, and the cultural duality of being Colombian-American. Discuss how the characters navigate and negotiate their cultural identities.

  3. Immigration Experience: The family's journey is marked by the challenges of immigration and the undocumented status. How does the novel shed light on the immigrant experience, and how does it challenge or reinforce common perceptions?

  4. Character Choices: Explore the choices made by characters like Elena, Mauro, and Talia. How do their decisions shape the trajectory of the family? Are there moments where you empathize or disagree with their choices?

  5. Mythology and Symbolism: The novel incorporates elements of Colombian mythology. What role do these myths play in the narrative? How do they enhance the story's themes or add depth to the characters?

  6. Narrative Structure: The book employs a non-linear narrative structure, moving back and forth in time. How does this structure contribute to your understanding of the characters and their stories? Did you find it effective?

  7. Infinite Country: The title suggests vast possibilities and challenges. What does the concept of an "infinite country" mean in the context of the novel? How does it relate to the characters' aspirations and struggles?

  8. Impact of Deportation: Mauro's deportation has a profound impact on the family. Discuss the emotional and practical consequences of his deportation on the family members left behind.

  9. The American Dream: The characters pursue the American Dream, yet face numerous obstacles. How does the novel depict the realities of pursuing this dream, particularly for undocumented immigrants?

  10. Character Narratives: Each family member gets a chance to narrate part of the story. How does this multiple perspective approach contribute to the richness of the narrative? Whose perspective resonated with you the most?

  11. Parental Choices: Both Elena and Mauro make challenging decisions regarding their children. How do these decisions reflect the complexities of parenthood, particularly in the context of immigration challenges?

  12. Hope and Resilience: Despite the challenges, there are moments of hope and resilience throughout the novel. Identify these moments and discuss how they contribute to the overall message of the story.

8. Reading Plan

Week 1: Pages 1-64

  • Day 1-2: Start with the first chapter and get acquainted with the setting in Colombia. Explore the budding love between Elena and Mauro.

  • Day 3-4: Continue reading as the family begins their journey to the United States. Pay attention to the challenges they face and the decisions they make.

Week 2: Pages 65-128

  • Day 5-7: Delve into the middle section of the book. Follow the family's experiences in the U.S. and the implications of their undocumented status.

  • Day 8-9: Explore the emotional impact of Mauro's deportation on Elena and the children.

Week 3: Pages 129-192

  • Day 10-12: Continue with Talia's journey in Colombia. Analyze the shifts in perspectives and how the characters cope with their divided existence.

  • Day 13-14: Take note of any cultural references, myths, or symbolism that adds layers to the narrative.

Week 4: Pages 193-256

  • Day 15-17: Conclude the novel. Reflect on the family's evolution, their reunions, and the resolution of their individual struggles.

  • Day 18-19: Revisit key scenes or chapters that resonated with you. Consider the overarching themes and messages.

Final Thoughts:

  • Day 20: Complete any unfinished sections and spend this day reflecting on the book as a whole. Consider how the narrative structure, themes, and characters contribute to the novel's impact.

9. Facts & Curiosities

  1. Inspiration from the Author's Life: Patricia Engel, the author, draws inspiration from her own experiences as the daughter of Colombian immigrants. Her personal background adds authenticity to the novel's portrayal of the challenges faced by immigrant families.

  2. Award-Winning Author: Patricia Engel is a highly acclaimed writer. She received the prestigious Biblioteca de Narrativa Colombiana prize in 2017, becoming the first woman to be awarded Colombia's national literature prize.

  3. Bilingual Background: Being a dual citizen and fluent in both English and Spanish, Patricia Engel seamlessly weaves bilingual elements into the narrative. This reflects the bilingual reality of many immigrant families.

  4. Mythical Elements: The novel incorporates Andean myths and folklore, particularly through Mauro's stories from the indigenous Muisca tradition. These mythical elements add depth to the storytelling and provide cultural context.

  5. Exploration of Immigration Themes: "Infinite Country" delves into essential themes related to the immigration experience, including family separation, identity, and the challenges faced by undocumented individuals. The narrative resonates with the broader discourse on immigration.

  6. Recognition as a Timely Novel: The novel has been praised for its timeliness, addressing issues such as family separation, immigration policies, and the experience of being undocumented. Its relevance to contemporary discussions on immigration adds to its impact.

  7. Structure and Perspective: Engel employs a multi-perspective narrative structure, offering insights into the thoughts and experiences of different family members. This allows readers to understand the complexities of their individual journeys.

  8. Critical Acclaim: "Infinite Country" received positive reviews from critics, with particular praise for Engel's writing style, character development, and the emotional depth of the narrative.

  9. Consideration of Cultural Identity: The novel explores questions of cultural identity as the characters navigate life in both Colombia and the United States. It prompts readers to reflect on the meaning of home and belonging.

  10. Reese Witherspoon Book Club Pick: The book gained additional visibility and readership after being selected as a pick for the Reese Witherspoon Book Club, contributing to its commercial success.

10. FAQ

1. What is "Infinite Country" about?

  • "Infinite Country" is a novel that explores the challenges faced by a Colombian family fractured by deportation. It follows the story of Talia, a young girl attempting to reunite with her family in the United States after being exiled to Colombia.

2. Who is the author of "Infinite Country"?

  • The author is Patricia Engel, an award-winning Colombian-American novelist. She draws inspiration from her own experiences as the daughter of Colombian immigrants.

3. What themes are explored in the book?

  • The novel delves into themes such as immigration, family separation, identity, and the complexities of life as an undocumented individual. It also incorporates elements of Andean myth and folklore.

4. How does the author incorporate bilingualism into the narrative?

  • Patricia Engel, being bilingual in English and Spanish, seamlessly weaves both languages into the narrative. This reflects the linguistic reality of many immigrant families.

5. Why is the novel considered timely?

  • "Infinite Country" is regarded as timely due to its exploration of issues such as family separation, immigration policies, and the experiences of undocumented individuals. Its relevance to contemporary discussions on immigration adds to its impact.

6. How does the novel handle the perspective and structure?

  • The novel employs a multi-perspective narrative structure, offering insights into the thoughts and experiences of different family members. This approach allows readers to understand the complexities of each character's journey.

7. What cultural elements are present in the book?

  • The novel incorporates Andean myths and folklore, particularly from the Muisca tradition. It explores questions of cultural identity as the characters navigate life in both Colombia and the United States.

8. Has "Infinite Country" received any awards or recognition?

  • While it was nominated for the Goodreads Choice Award for Best Fiction in 2021, Patricia Engel, the author, has previously won the Biblioteca de Narrativa Colombiana prize in 2017.

9. How does the novel contribute to immigration literature?

  • "Infinite Country" is praised for its contribution to immigration literature by providing an intimate perspective on the immigrant experience. It humanizes the challenges faced by families affected by deportation.

10. Why should I read "Infinite Country"?

  • "Infinite Country" is recommended for those interested in poignant family narratives, immigration stories, and explorations of cultural identity. It offers a beautifully written and emotionally resonant portrayal of the complexities of the immigrant experience.

11. Books Related

If you enjoyed Infinite Country by Patricia Engel and are interested in exploring similar themes of immigration, family dynamics, and cultural identity, here are some recommendations:

  1. "The Book of Unknown Americans" by Cristina Henríquez

  • A novel that portrays the lives of several Latino immigrants living in the same apartment building in Delaware. It delves into their individual stories, struggles, and hopes.

  1. "The House of the Spirits" by Isabel Allende

  • An epic family saga that spans generations, this novel weaves magical realism into the narrative and explores the complexities of family ties against the backdrop of political and social change.

  1. "Behold the Dreamers" by Imbolo Mbue

  • Set against the backdrop of the 2008 financial crisis, this novel follows the lives of two families—one an immigrant couple from Cameroon, the other a wealthy New York family—showcasing the impact of socioeconomic disparities.

  1. "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao" by Junot Díaz

  • A multi-generational novel that blends history, fantasy, and the immigrant experience. It follows the de León family from the Dominican Republic to the United States.

  1. "Americanah" by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

  • This novel explores the experiences of a young Nigerian woman who comes to the United States for education, grappling with issues of race, identity, and the concept of "home."

  1. "The Namesake" by Jhumpa Lahiri

  • A novel that follows the life of an Indian-American man born to immigrant parents in the United States. It examines themes of identity, belonging, and the clash between cultures.

  1. "The Joy Luck Club" by Amy Tan

  • This novel explores the relationships between Chinese-American immigrant mothers and their American-born daughters, delving into cultural conflicts and generational differences.

  1. "A Long Petal of the Sea" by Isabel Allende

  • Another novel by Isabel Allende, this book follows a young couple who flee the Spanish Civil War and build a new life in Chile. It spans decades and explores themes of displacement and resilience.

  1. "Little Fires Everywhere" by Celeste Ng

  • While not focused on immigration, this novel explores the complexities of family dynamics and the impact of secrets on two families, one of which is Asian-American.

  1. "Exit West" by Mohsin Hamid

  • A novel that combines elements of magical realism and a love story to explore the experiences of a young couple forced to flee their war-torn country through mysterious doors that lead to different places around the world.


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