The Nitty Gritty: Infinite Country

As a bookseller, Infinite Country marked a milestone for me: the very first Advance Reader Copy (ARC) I managed to read before the book actually came out.

Which is stellar–because now I know we’ll definitely stock Infinite Country by Patricia Engel at Bookish when it comes out in late February 2021.

In less than 200 pages, Engel called into question the very nature of countries and borders… the abstraction of separation drawn by imaginary lines. Her focus honed in on country not as a landmass defined by imaginary lines, but as home. And home may call to you, deep in your bones & in your dreams, whether you are able to consciously recollect your birth country or not.

So what happens when a family has mixed immigration status in the United States? What happens when the heart of a family hinges on whether to stay or go? What happens when you lose the power to make that choice?

This is an emotionally complicated read. Not because I got caught up in the lives of the characters. In fact, I felt like I never knew any of them all that well. The focus was definitely interconnectedness over singularity. It was complicated by large, unseen and unwieldy forces that left the 5 family members in question almost completely devoid of agency, opportunity, and hope.

What was most vibrant and alive about this book was the landscape, which became a significant entity… in particular, the landscape–flora & fauna–of Colombia. The free-flowing indigenous myths pulsed with life and fed the lushness and longing for Columbia–in particular, a pre-colonial Columbia. And the colonization that chipped away at indigenous life in Columbia only magnified and intensified as the characters moved further North.

Engle holds American culture out for scrutiny, exposing the myths that are so pervasive in American culture (the American Dream, pulling oneself up by the bootstraps, The Land of Opportunity) that the characters in the story seem to believe them against all evidence to the contrary. At least on the surface.

What lies beneath are many unanswered questions about the promise of America, what it means to be “undocumented,” and how to perhaps find a way forward from here.