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Book club questions for Infinite Country by Patricia Engel takes a closer look at this complicated novel about a family separated by borders. There will be spoilers so for more context about the book, check out my spoiler-free review first.
Infinite Country is a hard read about life as being undocumented in America. I’m glad Reese Witherspoon chose this as her March book club pick as it will help the book reach a wider audience. I mentioned this in my review but I did think this book had a bit of a slow start and it took me a while to get into it. But about the halfway point, I became super engaged. And I thought it ended really well. I was actually surprised by the ending.
This novel presents many questions—but it all boils down to what is home? For this Colombian family, neither Colombia or the U.S. is truly home.
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 in the north.
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. And all the while, the metronome ticks: Will Talia make it to Bogotá in time? And if she does, can she bring herself to trade the solid facts of her father and life in Colombia for the distant vision of her mother and siblings in America?
Rich with Bogotá urban life, steeped in Andean myth, and tense with the daily reality of the undocumented in America, Infinite Country is the story of two countries and one mixed-status family—for whom every triumph is stitched with regret, and every dream pursued bears the weight of a dream deferred.
Book Club Questions for Infinite Country
- What does the title Infinite Country mean in relation to the story?
- The story is told through multiple perspective and timelines. However, we mainly follow Talia, Mauro and Elena. Why do you think the author decided to tell the story in both the present and the past? On the same note, why did she introduce Karina and Nando’s viewpoint so late?
- Why did Mauro and Elena decide to come to the U.S.?
- Many times in the novel, the characters struggle with the question of wondering if life is really better for them in the U.S. or if they would have been better off to stay in Colombia. What are your thoughts on the decision to come to the U.S.? How did the American Dream fail to live up to its promise for this family?
- Talia was sent to a correctional facility after she attacked a man. But she did so because he killed a cat. Let’s talk about this story choice.
- There are many quotable passages including: I often wonder if we are living the wrong life in the wrong country. How does this sentence define what the family felt like living in the U.S.? What are some of the memorable quotes that stuck with you?
- Karina wonders if she can feel truly connected to a country where her family has no previous history. In your opinion, what makes a place—a true home? Is identity connected to one’s birthplace?
- This story really focuses on the undocumented experience in the U.S. How did it help show the complexity of the immigrant experience?
- Let’s talk about the impact of Mauro’s deportation to the family.
- What did you think about the family reuniting at the end? What happens next for the family?
Hope you enjoyed book club questions for Infinite Country! Here are some more recommendations with links to book club questions.
A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza
A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza is another impactful read about the immigrant experience in the U.S.
As an Indian wedding gathers a family back together, parents Rafiq and Layla must reckon with the choices their children have made. There is Hadia: their headstrong, eldest daughter, whose marriage is a match of love and not tradition. Huda, the middle child, determined to follow in her sister’s footsteps. And lastly, their estranged son, Amar, who returns to the family fold for the first time in three years to take his place as brother of the bride. What secrets and betrayals have caused this close-knit family to fracture? Can Amar find his way back to the people who know and love him best?
A Place for Us takes us back to the beginning of this family’s life: from the bonds that bring them together, to the differences that pull them apart. All the joy and struggle of family life is here, from Rafiq and Layla’s own arrival in America from India, to the years in which their children—each in their own way—tread between two cultures, seeking to find their place in the world, as well as a path home.
A Place for Us is a book for our times: an astonishingly tender-hearted novel of identity and belonging, and a resonant portrait of what it means to be an American family today. It announces Fatima Farheen Mirza as a major new literary talent.
Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi
Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi also focuses on the complicated immigrant experience.
Gifty is a sixth-year PhD candidate in neuroscience at the Stanford University School of Medicine studying reward-seeking behavior in mice and the neural circuits of depression and addiction. Her brother, Nana, was a gifted high school athlete who died of a heroin overdose after an ankle injury left him hooked on OxyContin. Her suicidal mother is living in her bed. Gifty is determined to discover the scientific basis for the suffering she sees all around her. But even as she turns to the hard sciences to unlock the mystery of her family’s loss, she finds herself hungering for her childhood faith and grappling with the evangelical church in which she was raised, whose promise of salvation remains as tantalizing as it is elusive.