Patricia Engel on Writing Shifting Identities

Patricia Engel on Writing the Shifting Identities of Diaspora Life

Jane Ciabattari Talks to the Author of Infinite Country

By Jane Ciabattari

In an essay on great novels of exile and dislocation for Electric Lit, Patricia Engel writes that she finds the phrase “immigrant experience” reductive, noting, “For all its elasticity, the English language is limited in its ability to convey the migratory journey of geography and of the interior, and the spectrum of related traumas that transcend generations, imprinting itself on both the individual and on the collective. For now, let’s simply call this disassembly of the heart and excavation of a new identity in an unknown place irrespective of the events that lead up to it, exile, which comes to us not only in the social and political sense but in the emotional, the spiritual, the familial; the virtual undoing of the self in order to exist in a new life.”

Engel’s new novel, Infinite Country, explores this “undoing” as it affects several generations — US-born teenaged Talia in Bogotá, her US-based mother Elena, and her father, Mauro, who was deported to Colombia after the family came to the US. Mauro urged Elena to stay in the US. But things weren’t so simple. “During the years Elena and Marco contemplated staying in the country and the threat of being caught and sent back, they thought only of their lives lived here or lived there, not a fractured in-between. It never occurred to them their family could be split as if by an ax,” Engel writes. Her polyphonic, multigenerational new novel offers an intimate portrait of this splitting, with all its regrets and opportunities for renewal. Read the interview at LitHub.

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