Infinite Country by Patricia Engel is what American Dirt by Jeanine Commins should have been, or at least what the latter fancied itself to be. Where Cummins’ novel about a mother and son on the run from the Cartel in Mexico succeeded in delivering up an undeniable absorbing suspense thriller, it received warranted criticism for promoting falsehoods, often labeled “stereotypical” and “appropriative.” Engle’s story about a Colombian family fractured by deportation, and the young female protagonist initially running from school, her family and her inner demons, feels authentic and compassionate. It deftly combines political narratives with human struggles.
The story begins with 15-year-old Talia breaking free from a nun-managed reform school in the Colombian mountains. Talia, a young, but tortured soul is more than capable on her own. She’s tough, and a force to be reckoned with as she forges her way back to Bogotá where she had been raised by her father and grandmother in Colombia. From there, she is determined to catch a flight and reunite with her mother and siblings in the United States, her place of birth. but raised by her father and grandmother in Colombia. Along the way from the school to her home, readers are taken along not only Talia’s rigorous trek and the people she encounters, but through the backstory of her young life and her family’s. Though Talia’s journey drives the novel’s narrative and rhythm of short, brisk chapters, Infinite Country’s is less about Talia’s journey and need to reunite with her family than expected from the story’s start. Instead, as the novel richly unfolds, one realizes its focus is on her and her parent’s choices and unfortunate circumstances, as well as the cruel immigration policies that led to their initial separation. It is those themes that Engel explores and excels. The writing is lyrical and captivating, and the messages are necessary and urgent.