“The Infinite Country” Posted by Patricia Engel: NPR


The Avid Reader / Simon & Schuster

An Infinite Country, by Patricia Engel

The Avid Reader / Simon & Schuster

In the first chapter of Patricia Engel’s third novel, Infinite country, A 15-year-old girl named Thalia freed from a reform school run by nuns in the Colombian mountains. In just a few pages, Engel makes it crystal clear that Talia is more than equipped to escape from the nuns and return to Bogota, where she has a plane to catch up with. Talia was born in the United States, but her father and grandmother grew up in Colombia. Her mother and siblings, Karina and Nando, live in New Jersey, where Thalia is finally preparing to join them. Infinite country Despite this, Talia is less concerned with her family’s reunification than about the choices and circumstances – and the harsh immigration policies – that led to their initial separation. In quick chapters that bounce between characters and chronology, Engel moves from flirting with Talia’s parents to their desertion to their forced split, tracing their subsequent battle for survival as individuals and as a family.

Engel brings together a lot of events and emotion in an insignificant novel. It often covers a period of years in just a few pages. Thalia’s parents, Mauro and Elena, fall in love, give birth to their first child, and move to Texas on barely more pages than she needs to drop out of correctional school. Their early years in the United States, during which I was born easily. ” [that] Astonished everyone, “Tough on all levels, but it still seems, like Thalia’s birth, to fly close to him. This speed comes in part simply from the range: Engel’s plot spans more than 20 years. It also comes from a bold narrative decision: except in The chapters below which present the current tension of the book, Infinite country It relies on a detailed narrative summary more than on traditional scenes. Sometimes Engel lingers in the inner lives of her characters, but only Thalia has the great outdoors. In other chapters, dialogue is scarce. Major plot points are compressed into short, clear passages or paragraphs, rather than occurring in a fictional writer’s effort – doomed to always fail, of course – to replicate in real time.

This is an unusual and impressive choice. Consciously or not, readers expect sights. To deny her requires literary willpower, which Engel has in abundance. Of course, it helps that she writes great prose. The summary can easily derail itself, however Infinite countryAnd, almost completely summary, it moves forward non-stop. The impetus of the novel, which comes from intensely elicited sentiments and sharp and elegant sentences, reflects and amplifies the design of its characters, insofar as their fragmented form, time and movement between perspective reflects the fragmentation of the family.

But the summary has its risks, especially when mixed with a broken schedule and a busy schedule. Engle never allows the reader to spend too much time with any particular character. Instead, we pass between Elena, Mauro and Talia, with some late stage engravings by Karina and Nando. Each one is individually masked; The novel ends with kindness to Mauro, a recovering alcoholic who finds solace in history and indigenous Colombian legend. Often times, though, the combination of fast writing and fast plot has more of an emotional connection to a character than an attitude. It also means that ideas and description often take turns rather than working side by side. When Karina briefly took over the narration midway through, in the first chapter of the novel written in the third person rather than in the third person, she thought the new view might slow the book, or otherwise shift it to a different, more flexible area. Instead, Kareena reports on her experience as an American undocumented, then disappearing before the reader can ever get to know her well.

A version of this issue often takes over Elena’s chapters, which cover most of the time. So much happens to Elena in so few pages that her inner life is diminished, her thoughts and feelings blocked. At one point, she dreamed that she was floating over Colombia, so she could “see everything from this distance.” Its chapters and the novel as a whole often seem to have been written from a similar point of view. I wish he would descend on Earth, where his characters live.

To be clear, Infinite country It is not intended to focus on the character. Its segmented, abstract-focused format clearly prioritizes ideas – how do we define the home? a family? safety? – Before everything. But these ideas are not abstractions, and Engel’s characters are not flat. Micro-dimensional personalities exist to elicit emotional responses, not intellectual responses, which is what tells me that Engel is out of both. If she lets her narration come off the air more often, or if she chooses to cover time in chunks rather than spaces, the thoughts and characters are in Infinite country Perhaps they coexisted fully, and inflated better as a result.

Lily Meyer is a writer and translator based in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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