Infinite country by Patricia Engel

cover image

Talia is being held in detention facility for girl offenders after lashing out at a man who had casually killed a cat by pouring boiling liquid on it. She instigates a dramatic escape from the facility as there is a plane ticket awaiting her from Bogota to the U.S. to join her mother and siblings. The fifteen year old's country, Columbia, is a violent place where a "nameless and tentacled war" (pp. 15) has been waged for years, where fear and danger are never far away and families like Tahlia's struggle to make a living. That is why her mother and sister Karina have made the journey across the border to find safety, better paid work and opportunity in the U.S. She sends home money to help support Talia and her grandmother's laundry business. Even without proper papers, what they earn in a week in the U.S. is more than they made in a month back home. Mauro, Tahlia's father had also gone to the U.S. and a son, Nando, was born there. But Mauro was arrested for a minor traffic infringement and was deported back to Columbia as "undocumented", having overstayed his visa. While life in Bogota is difficult, it is Tahlia's home and she loves her father and grandmother and the traditional stories and the spiritual dimension to their lives. As she makes her way home, she experiences the dangers of travelling in such a corrupt and violent place but also she is touched by the little people she encounters just trying to live their lives meaningfully.

Tahlia's story will speak to immigrants worldwide, living in countries happy to have undocumented immigrants do menial tasks for little pay with no support, treated as enemy foreigners by their host countries. What they gain in financial security is balanced by the loss of their own spiritual home and families left behind. The author's own story is rooted in this one. She is part of the "United States of Diasporica" (pp. 129) and tells her story in the second part of the book. The third person narrative style is infused with beautiful descriptive language and the personal narrative in the second part is particularly insightful. Senior students will gain some perspective on the push and pull that drives "illegal" migration from poor countries to rich ones and the cost to families who make the journey.

Themes: Migration, Illegal immigrants, Family, Columbia, USA..

Sue Speck