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About The Book



“A profound, beautiful novel.” —People * “Poignant.” —BuzzFeed * “A breathtaking story of the unimaginable prices paid for a better life.” —Esquire

This “heartbreaking portrait of a family dealing with the realities of migration and separation” (Time) is “a sweeping love story and tragic drama [and] an authentic vision of what the American Dream looks like in a nationalistic country” (Elle).

I often wonder if we are living the wrong life in the wrong country.

Talia is being held at a correctional facility for adolescent girls in the forested mountains of Colombia after committing an impulsive act of violence that may or may not have been warranted. She urgently needs to get out and get back home to Bogotá, where her father and a plane ticket to the United States are waiting for her. If she misses her flight, she might also miss her chance to finally be reunited with her family.

How this family came to occupy two different countries, two different worlds, comes into focus like twists of a kaleidoscope. We see Talia’s parents, Mauro and Elena, fall in love in a market stall as teenagers against a backdrop of civil war and social unrest. We see them leave Bogotá with their firstborn, Karina, in pursuit of safety and opportunity in the United States on a temporary visa, and we see the births of two more children, Nando and Talia, on American soil. We witness the decisions and indecisions that lead to Mauro’s deportation and the family’s splintering—the costs they’ve all been living with ever since.

Award-winning, internationally acclaimed author Patricia Engel, herself a dual citizen and the daughter of Colombian immigrants, gives voice to all five family members as they navigate the particulars of their respective circumstances. Rich with Bogotá urban life, steeped in Andean myth, and tense with the daily reality of the undocumented in America, Infinite Country “is as much an all-American story as it is a global one” (Booklist, starred review).

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for Infinite Country includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Patricia Engel. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


At the dawn of the new millennium, Colombia is a country devastated by half a century of violence. Only teenagers, Elena and Mauro fall in love against a backdrop of paramilitary and guerilla warfare. A few years later, brutalities continue to ravage their homeland, but the couple now has a young daughter to protect. Their economic prospects grim, they bargain on the American Dream and travel to Houston to send wages back to Elena’s mother, all the while weighing whether to risk overstaying their visas or to return to Bogotá. The decision to ignore their exit dates plunges the expanding family into the precariousness of undocumented status, the threat of discovery menacing a life already strained with struggle. When deportation forces Mauro back to Colombia, Elena sends infant Talia on a plane back to her daughter’s grandmother, splintering the family into two worlds with no certain hope of reunion. Encompassing continents and generations, Infinite Country knits together the accounts of five family members as they struggle to keep themselves whole in the face of the hostile landscapes and forces that threaten to drive them apart.

Topics & Questions for Discussion

1. Infinite Country begins with Talia’s restraint of a prison school nun, her time at the correctional facility a punishment for committing an even more viscerally violent attack. Think about Talia’s decision to throw hot oil on the man who killed the cat and how this choice surfaces at various points. Reflect also on the sentence, “Talia considered how people who do horrible things can be victims, and how victims can be people who do horrible things” (page 8). What role does moral ambivalence play in the novel?

2. For Mauro and Elena’s family of five, the concept of “home” is a fluid one, distinct to each character and dependent on time and place. Choose a character and chart their relationship to Colombia and to the United States. Does it change, and if so, what affects this shift?

3. Although the settings of Infinite Country are primarily urban, Engel writes of lush Colombian landscapes brimming with beasts and allegories, stories in which Mauro finds a particular sense of pride. How do descriptions of North American cities compare, and what emotions can be gleaned from both kinds of imagery?

4. At the end of chapter five, Elena watches airplanes crash into the World Trade Center on September 11 and wonders “if she was hallucinating” (page 37). In what ways might feelings of uncanniness and displacement be heightened for Elena, Mauro, and other members of diaspora?

5. Talia is named after Talia Shire, the actress who plays Adrian Pennino-Balboa of the Rocky franchise. Elena thinks Adrian is “much tougher than the boxer. Only women knew the strength it took to love men through their evolution to who they thought they were supposed to be” (page 44). How does Mauro and Elena’s relationship demonstrate this dynamic? At the beginning of the novel, who does Mauro think he is supposed to be, and who does he end up becoming?

6. As she hitchhikes back to her father in Bogotá, Talia meets three men who agree to help her home. What insights do they share with her about her impending journey north? What does each encounter say about Talia’s character and the way she moves about the world?

7. In her nightmares, Elena finds herself in the midst of the Nevado del Ruiz eruption. Although she usually dreams that she is either trying to pull Omayra Sánchez to safety or she becomes Omayra herself, Elena dreams that she is “a bird or a cloud watching from above” after Mauro is deported (page 85). What does this passage disclose about Elena’s psyche during this difficult period in her life?

8. Between Elena, Perla, Tracy, and the women with whom Elena forms a community in New Jersey, mothers are omnipresent in Infinite Country. How do these maternal energies manifest within Engel’s network of characters?

9. Karina reveals herself to be “the author of these pages” in chapter nineteen (page 127). What impact did this revelation have on your reading of the novel? How did Karina and Nando’s palpable anger affect you?

10. Sometimes, after Mauro would leave his and Elena’s bed at Perla’s to smoke a cigarette on the roof, Elena would follow him and watch. “When she did say his name,” Engel writes, “he met her with an indecipherable expression” (page 166). Imagine what emotions a young Mauro might have been experiencing looking out at the “veined mountain lights” (page 166). Why is his connection to his homeland so fraught?

11. Once Talia lands in the United States, she is happy but overwhelmed by her new life in New Jersey, preoccupied by the sense that she is “waiting for something . . . Another departure? Another arrival?” (page 179). What function does Talia’s plotline have in the context of so many threads of experience, even if she is “no longer sure where her journey began or where it should end” (page 179)?

12. At Infinite Country’s end, the entire family has been reunited, though the threat of separation still looms in an all too possible future. If Karina was to continue writing this “book of our lives” past the novel’s conclusion, what are some everyday struggles and triumphs she might portray (page 190)?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. As a group, pull up a map of the United States and Colombia and trace the routes that lead each character to New Jersey by the final pages of the book. Identify important moments in the novel and attach them to physical locations—you can split up into smaller groups by character or country. When everyone has finished, come back together to discuss how this exercise expands your understanding of how geography influences the emotional inflection points of Infinite Country.

2. Before they leave for Texas, Mauro, Elena, and Karina visit Lake Guatavita, the birthplace of all human life for the Muisca people, in order to “conjure their deepest desire” (page 80). Come up with a list of minor characters in Infinite Country (for example, Tiberio, Aguja, Mister and Madame) and divide yourself into that many groups. Within these smaller clusters, invent a life for these characters beyond the book, and imagine what they might have wished for at Lake Guatavita. Try writing a short passage, or simply come back together into the bigger group to have a larger conversation.

3. Brainstorm a list of other novels wherein immigration figures prominently and discuss how these selections differ from or are similar to Infinite Country. How do style and content affect your emotional reaction? What did you appreciate about Engel’s approach? You can also include other art forms. Would it be difficult to adapt Infinite Country into another medium?

A Conversation with Patricia Engel

As a dual citizen of the United States and Colombia, the daughter of Colombian immigrants, and an award-winning author of the Latin America diaspora, you are intimately familiar with the in-betweenness of the lives you depict in Infinite Country. Did this sense of liminality affect your writing?

The idea of belonging or not belonging is so tied to the idea of country and borders. Very early in my life I was made to feel both excluded and embraced by the two countries and cultures that formed me, and there were others, still, who had no idea what to do with me. Many people feel an urge to define and to categorize in order to understand. I soon realized that who I am does not need to fit into neat boxes and that my essence extends far beyond the parameters of geography and language. This is what I’m always exploring in my work, and how transdiaspora can amplify ancestral connections while diminishing those imposed by one’s dominant surroundings.

You sow the pages of Infinite Country with Andean myths, and they often appear as a point of comparison for dilemmas that the characters encounter in the real world. How did you first learn about the legends you reference in the novel, and do you have a favorite?

My family is full of storytellers, artists, and highly creative people. I loved hearing my grandmother’s fantastical tales of life and people she knew in Colombia that she’d swear were true. For us, imagination and storytelling is a life force. I love the overlap of Traditional Knowledge and myth with what we know to be true in the world through science, and the spaces in between. The word “myth” doesn’t convey the power that stories about the origin of the world and the logic of the universe really have. The stories in Infinite Country came at different moments of discovery in my life, some throughout my childhood from my family members and others while traveling in Colombia, or from research. My favorites are definitely those about the jaguar, the serpent, and the condor.

Though they are siblings, Karina, Nando, and Talia all have individual ties—both state-recognized and not—to the United States and Colombia. How did you decide Talia would be the propulsive focal point of the book? Are there passages about Karina and Nando that didn’t make it into the final version of the manuscript?

It’s hard to say when or how each character came to me. Somehow they announced themselves as a complete family. I knew they’d each be tested in different ways, and Talia’s reunification with her mother and siblings would be at the center. A book goes through many incarnations, so there was a time when Karina’s and Nando’s voices occupied more written terrain. Even though their narratives are brief, they populate the entire novel the way one populates the lives of their loved ones even when apart, be it for hours or for years.

Some major events in the book—Mauro’s deportation and eventual reentry into the United States, for example—occur in just a few paragraphs. How did you weigh which moments to omit and which to include?

I think the impact of an experience doesn’t need to correlate to how much space it takes up in a book. I write impressionistically, in a way I hope imitates the interior life of a character, where trauma and memory often partner to create narrative omissions, reduce moments to their molecular parts rather than ruminate on things that would be otherwise painful. I think this is closer to how people truly tell their own stories. It’s often the reader who expects dissection, even though a character is already being as vulnerable as they can possibly be. For Mauro, what happened to him while detained or deported or returning to the north is not as important as what those events cost him and what that means in the larger picture of his love for his family.

Your book comprises five main characters, two continents, and nearly two decades—all under two hundred pages. Did you have a process for keeping the coiling timelines and multiple settings of Infinite Country in order?

I keep notebooks for everything I write, and I rewrite each draft word by word from the beginning each time. This way the story always feels as fresh and alive as the very first draft and allows me to navigate the leaps in time and space with more freedom, fluidity, and control.

From Horacio to the Frenchman to Elena’s restaurant boss, you populate the periphery of Infinite Country with a few minor characters who seem less than redeemable. Is there one of particular interest to you, one that you might explore further if you had the time? If so, why?

I don’t really consider anyone irredeemable. In my own life, I forgive easily. I’m always interested in the dualities that exist in people, how nobody is all good or all bad, how we can become possessed by our impulses and then how we each have to reconcile who we really are with who we think we are. It’s not always the same person.

As Talia tries to sleep next to Aguja by the river, she remembers something that Mauro said: “This land, with all its beauty, still manages to betray itself” (page 140). How do you think love and betrayal interact in the context of this family’s immigrant experience?

Immigration does sometimes feel like a betrayal. Choosing to leave one’s homeland, choosing another place to make your life and home, can fill a person with guilt and doubt over whether it was the right choice for years and the feeling often never dissipates. Just because you leave a place (or a person) doesn’t mean you love it (or them) any less. At the same time, Colombia is such an extraordinarily beautiful country that has been subject to so much suffering often at its own hands, which brings one to another kind of mourning on behalf of the land and its people. But what Mauro said can be applied to any land, as well as to how we treat the planet.

Is there a moment, sentence, or section in Infinite Country that you find especially beautiful?

There are many moments that are special to me, but a scene that stands out is when Talia and Mauro say goodbye at the airport in Bogotá and she realizes that she doesn’t want to leave. When she asks, “How will they know me?” A simple question that speaks to so much more.

As you were developing and writing Infinite Country, did you turn to any other books or media that inspire you? If so, what are they and how did they influence you?

With Infinite Country, I wanted to write a book that felt both epic and intimate. I love short novels that feel compressed, stormlike intoxications or fever dreams. A few favorites are In the Beginning Was the Sea by Tomás González, The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel García Márquez, and The Lover by Marguerite Duras.

If you could guarantee that readers think more deeply about one idea or concept in your book, what would it be and why?

I hope readers find a place for themselves in the world of Infinite Country, and consider the ways that where we come from, and who we are told to be, determine how we understand or misunderstand humanity and love.

About The Author

Photograph by Elliot & Erick Jimenez

Patricia Engel is the author of Infinite Country, a New York Times bestseller and Reese’s Book Club selection; The Veins of the Ocean, winner of the Dayton Literary Peace Prize; It’s Not Love, It’s Just Paris, winner of the International Latino Book Award; and Vida, a finalist for the Pen/Hemingway and Young Lions Fiction Awards, New York Times Notable Book, and winner of Colombia’s national book award, the Premio Biblioteca de Narrativa Colombiana. She is a recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. Her stories appear in The Best American Short Stories, The Best American Mystery StoriesThe O. Henry Prize Stories, and elsewhere. Born to Colombian parents, and herself a dual citizen, Patricia is an associate professor of creative writing at the University of Miami.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Avid Reader Press/Simon & Schuster (March 2, 2021)
  • Length: 208 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781982159481

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Raves and Reviews

“An exceptionally powerful and illuminating story about a Colombian family torn apart by war and migration.” —Reese Witherspoon

“Engel movingly captures the shadow lives of undocumented migrants... a profound, beautiful novel.”People Magazine

“[Engel is] a gifted storyteller whose writing shines even in the darkest corners.” The Washington Post

“The prose is serpentine and exciting... [with] intimate and meticulously rendered descriptions of Andean landscapes and mythology, of Colombia’s long history of violence... a compulsively readable novel.” New York Times Book Review

"Patricia Engel is a wonder; her novels are marvels of exquisite control and profound and delicately evoked feeling. Infinite Country knocked me out with its elegant and lucid deconstruction of yearning, family, belonging, and sacrifice. This is a book that speaks into the present moment with an oracle's devastating coolness and clarity." —Lauren Groff, author of Florida and Fates and Furies

"A diamond-sharp novel... With stunning sentences, vivid language, and a pace that will leave you breathless, Infinite Country is steeped in myth and rich in both depth and beauty. There’s a not a single word misplaced in this book. —The Today Show

“Engel’s sweeping novel gives voice to three generations of a Colombian family torn apart by man-made borders... Gorgeously woven through with Andean myths and the bitter realities of undocumented life, Infinite Country tells a breathtaking story of the unimaginable prices paid for a better life.” Esquire

“At once a sweeping love story and tragic drama, Infinite Country… promises to deliver what American Dirt could not: an authentic vision of what the American Dream looks like in a nationalistic country.” Elle

"A gorgeous, moving novel." New York Post

“Engel’s pacing is breathless—she covers three generations in under 200 pages—but just as frequently gives way to heart- and time-stopping moments. Infinite Country is poised to be one of the most stirring page-turners of the year.” A.V. Club

"Clear, moving, and perfectly calibrated, Infinite Country follows the members of one mixed-immigration status family as they navigate dreams, distance, and the bonds of love and memory. Patricia Engel is a stunning writer with astonishing talents." —Lisa Ko, author of The Leavers

“I’ve admired Engel’s writing a long time, and her new book deepened that admiration. An exquisitely told story of family, war, and migration, this is a novel our increasingly divided country wants and needs to read.” —R.O. Kwon, Electric Literature “Books by Women of Color in 2021”

"Engel's vital story of a divided Colombian family is a book we need to read... The rare immigrant chronicle that is as long on hope as it is on heartbreak.” —*starred* Kirkus Reviews

“Engel’s gaze is intensely intimate but never voyeuristic, and her prose, while sparse and digestible, is full of poignant observations... Perfect for readers of Isabel Allende and Valeria Luiselli, this book offers readers from all walks of life a searingly timely perspective on the challenges faced by those in pursuit of a dream.” Book Reporter

“A memorable line—"It was her idea to tie up the nun.”— launches the narrative with the force of a cannon as it switches back and forth between the present and the past... Told by a chorus of voices and perspectives, this is as much an all-American story as it is a global one.” —*starred* Booklist

“An outstanding novel of migration and the Colombian diaspora... Engel’s sharp, unflinching narrative teems with insight and dazzles with a confident, slyly sophisticated structure. This is an impressive achievement.” *starred* Publishers Weekly

“An intriguing, compact tale, rife with both real-life implications and spiritual significance… Engel does a marvelous job of rendering these characters as individuals, each with a unique story.”BookPage

“Exquisitely written and composed... Heartbreaking and profound, this is a must read.” Boston Magazine

“Crucial... Patricia Engel tells a now eerily recognizable story of a Colombian family’s experiences with migration, mixed statuses and mercy.” Ms. Magazine

"Powerful and poignant, Infinite Country crystallizes the questions we are asking today about migration, family, and our vision of the future. Patricia Engel has written a memorable and brutally honest response to the simplistic notion of what constitutes the American Dream." Maaza Mengiste, author of The Shadow King

"Infinite Country is both a timely and timeless novel. In beautiful prose, Patricia Engel brings to life the courage and complexity of the immigrant experience, illuminating the hardship of life between two countries and two languages, and the search for family and belonging." —Jennifer Clement, author of Gun Love

“Everything Patricia Engel writes is lit up from the inside with beauty and power. Her prose is gorgeous and her characters are always achingly alive." —Carolina de Robertis, author of Cantoras

“What a breathtaking novel this is, about family, forgiveness, and love while contending with the terrifying unknowns of being an immigrant in a merciless era. There is mercy, however, in every scene of Infinite Country—the kind of profound, understated mercy that manifests in exceptional works of fiction. Patricia Engel is a tremendous writer, and Infinite Country is her best novel yet.” —Idra Novey, author of Those Who Knew

"A tender, beautifully written, and deeply transporting story springing with love and hope. The questions at the heart of Infinite Country are some of the most urgent of our time: Who is allowed in? How will I be known? What is home? Clever, strong, and born searching, Talia hooked me the second she decided to tie up that nun." —Dina Nayeri, author of The Ungrateful Refugee

“Patricia Engel has an elegant voice. But that finesse has a way of making the shocks and surprises in her fiction more stunning. Infinite Country is her most satisfying work. You won’t be sorry. Well, you will be sorry when it ends.” —Luis Alberto Urrea, author of House of Broken Angels and The Devil's Highway

“A stunning new story that follows a mixed-status Colombian family... This is an urgent look at the devastating effects that separation can wreck on one family.” —She Reads, “Most Anticipated Latinx Books of 2021”

“This is Engel at her best...This is the kind of book that allows you to see and feel the whole issue, offering an intimate perspective of an experience that touches and impacts us all... Infinite Country has us feeling all the emotions!” —Angie Cruz, Undomesticated Mag’s “Most Anticipated for 2021”

“This book broke me in the best way possible... At the heart of Infinite Country is the love of Elena and Mauro, of their family, and of their children trying to make their way... The ending will absolutely move you to tears.” —Alma, “Favorite Books for Winter 2021”

“A poignant depiction of a family trying to survive in a system designed against them." —BuzzFeed

“A heartbreaking portrait of a family dealing with the realities of migration and separation.” Time, “Best Books of March 2021”

“Poignant and realistic... Engel’s strength is in making readers gain a deeper understanding of the family histories behind recent headlines—as well as the country's past generations of immigrants.” —NBC Latino

“[In] vibrant language... Engel brilliantly captures the life of a family split in half and living in two separate worlds... Stretched between two countries, Infinite Country is a moving, authentic story about a family in a new land chasing a complicated dream.” LatinxSpaces

“At only 200 pages, Infinite Country can be read in one sitting, but its effects on you will far outlast a vacation tan.” O Magazine, “Best Beach Reads of 2021”

“A literary masterpiece... Patricia Engel tells the urgent story of a mixed-immigration-status family as they navigate their lives together and apart.” goop

Infinite Country vibrates with the fissures of a divided America and a divided family... in a narrative that feels both specific and universal.” Boca Magazine

“Brilliant” Remezcla

“Timely, elegant.” Good Morning America

“[a] powerful and intimate account of life in the diaspora.” Refinery29, “Best New Books of 2021”

“Another gorgeous and devastating Pan-American story of exile, yearning, and loss.” Dan Sheehan, “Lit Hub’s Most Anticipated Books of 2021”

“A moving novel.” AARP, 2021 Winter Preview

“To read this story is to become entrenched in the love, fears, and desperations of Talia, Elena, Mauro, and their family…No matter where you stand regarding immigration, Engel reminds us that behind the statistics, the papers, and the stamps, there are actual people and families who breathe, bleed, and fight to survive. Amerie, Grammy-nominated singer and New York Times-bestselling author

“Lyrical... Weaving together the different experiences of each family member, Infinite Country offers a poignant account that blends both tragedy and victory.” The Glossary (UK)

“In distilled, propulsive prose…Engel depicts how the vicissitudes of the immigration system don’t just separate members of a family physically; they also create an emotional rift… The American dream exerts a magnetic pull in [Infinite Country].” America Magazine

Awards and Honors

  • Carnegie Medal Honor Book

Resources and Downloads

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