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Infinite Country by Patricia Engel | Thoughts

   Published : 2021   ||    Format : print   ||    Location : Colombia ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆   What was it about the country that kept everyone hostage to its fantasy? The previous month, on its own soil, an American man went to his job at a plant and gunned down fourteen coworkers, and last spring alone there were four different school shootings. A nation at war with itself, yet people still spoke of it as some kind of paradise.. Thoughts : Infinite Country follows two characters - young Talia, who at the beginning of this book, escapes a girl’s reform school in North Colombia so that she can make her previously booked flight to the US. Before she can do that, she needs to travel many miles to reach her father and get her ticket to the rest of her family. As we follow Talia’s treacherous journey south, we learn about how she ended up in the reform school in the first place and why half her family resides in the US. Infinite Country tells the story of her family through the other protagonist, El

You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins | Thoughts

Published in: 2017
Format read in: ebook
Location: US, Ghana, India
Rating: 3/5

Why I read it: I hadn't heard of this book until I was browsing through Goodreads Recommend lists. I was craving some Asian fiction and this sounded good from the synopsis.

One line review: A decent picture of an Indian American life that focuses more on familial relationships and how the different generations adapt, but one that does not do their characters justice or truly focus on one theme.

Who should read it: If you're a Mitali Perkins fan or want to understand more about immigrants, you may enjoy this.

There's something about putting words on a page in private that makes me feel powerful in public.


Sisters Tara and Sonia move to Flushing, New York from London when their father gets a job there. Until then, they were Londonites to the core, but were now ready to accept New York as their new home. Tara was especially good at imbibing new cultures and even transforming herself pretty rapidly. They both have different ideas of where home is and what their culture was. For Tara, it's simpler - it's wherever she is. But for Sonia, it's an amalgamation of the many cultures they've passed through - their Bengali roots commingled with what they've learnt during their brief years in Ghana, London, and now New York.

However, New York brings with it a new challenge - their mother, always judgmental, isn't quite sure of their new home, is always hassling her husband to find something better, and is also severely curtailing her daughters' movements so that they remain "safe".

I picked up You Bring the Distant Near to fill the vacuum left by Never Have You Ever and wanting to read more fiction featuring Indian-American characters. While there certainly are many such books out there, I picked this one because it also mentioned multi-generational families and had five protagonists. Gosh, how I adore reading books with many protagonists.

This book did two things decently well that I appreciated - one, the author does not shy away from infusing many Indian cultural symbols and traditions into the book. It's honestly what I love about reading #ownvoices books - there's an authenticity that warms you to the story. The other thing I respected was the representation of the alienness that new immigrants feel in a new country. Especially as adults, how do you shake away years of wearing your own heritage, just so you can belong (or appear to)? I wanted more on this theme, though, and felt somewhat disheartened when the focus of the book moved away from that to other more central elements of the story.

You Bring the Distant Near spans about 40 years of the Das family - most of it set in the US, although a few chapters are focused in Ghana and Mumbai. Obviously, a span this vast with themes of immigrant life, being teenagers, assimilation, the American dream, heritage, family relationships, death, and more can get lost in the confusion. And sadly, I felt that it did. A primary theme for sure, was the matriarch's (Ranee) perception of Black people. She held incredibly biased views convinced that they were violent and not to be trusted. Through the years, she comes in contact with many Black people who test her beliefs all the way to the end.

For all the diversity that this book featured, it suffered from a lack of uniqueness among its protagonists. All but three chapters were written in first person and each featured a primary narrator. And yet, each of the five characters sounded exactly alike. If they were narrated in third person, it probably would have worked better. They also go through very similar life experiences and challenges. They all meet their significant others the exact same way (I'm not interested ...time passes... okay maybe I am ...time passes... yes I'll marry you). They have some strength (dance, acting, academics, debates) and they are not just good at those but rather excellent, top of the class, creme de la creme. 

But ultimately what bugged me the most was that this story felt as if written entirely in flashback. You know how that works - there's a focus on only the pivotal (to plot) incidents - things happen then months or years pass then more happens to continue that arc. We don't settle at any point to truly understand the characters or appreciate their circumstances. I had the disorienting sensation of being whipped about in a time capsule of memories.

I've come to the point that Mitali Perkins is just not for me. If you look at Goodreads, you'll see this book is rated about 4, so this may be another case of "it's not you, it's me". If you've read her books or would like to read this one, I'll strongly encourage - I really would like to hear what you think. But I doubt I will be reading more of hers. The only other book by her I've read is Secret Keeper - also an average read for me.

On the plus side though, it's given me more fodder to ponder the question I've been thinking about for much of this year, especially amid the Black Lives Matter protests, the elections, and the various divisive rhetorics at play. What does it mean to be American? Is it just about your passport or is it about embodying a set of values or is it about belonging to a majority group, be it by color, religion, or race? There is a correct answer obviously but is that what is truly perceived and felt by all? It would be nice not to have to ask that question but the United States is also not the only country raising questions like that.

Have you read Mitali Perkins before? What is your favorite book by her?