Cover Image: The Faraway World

The Faraway World

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

Thanks to Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster for the copy of this ARC.

I absolutely LOVED Infinite Country and knew I wanted to pick up Patricia Engel's short story collection. All are Latin American stories that relate to immigration, despiration, and identity formation. I definitely liked some stories better than others, and felt compelled to keep going with many of the stories, but would have been okay skipping some of them as well. Patricia is a very talented writer, but I think I just prefer the cohesiveness of a single story.

Was this review helpful?

Short story collection following Latinx characters across the Americas in moments both mundane and extraordinary. Touches on immigration, redemption, cultural expectations, running from your past to an unknown future… Gorgeous prose, but I think only a couple stories will stick with me long term.

Was this review helpful?

Source: DRC via NetGalley (Avid Reader Press/Simon and Schuster) in exchange for an honest review
Pub. Date: January 24, 2023
Synopsis: Goodreads
Purchase Link: Amazon


Why did I choose to read this book?

I’m gonna be really honest and say that I thought this was a novel, and since I’ve been meaning to read Patricia Engel for a while now I requested the advance copy. I only noticed it was a collection of short stories after I was granted the advance copy. I said I wouldn’t request short stories anymore but we’re in this now so…yeah.

What is this book about?

These stories stretch across the Americas, focusing on the experiences of Latinx/Cuban/Hispanic (different populations prefer different labels so I’m including most of them here) people. You will see the immigrant experience, the patriotism of staying at home no matter the struggles, and how to find, keep, or let go of love no matter where the characters are. In almost all of the stories there is some kind of trauma to get past.

Central and South America are the areas of the world that I know the least about, so while I absolutely would not have requested this one if I had known it was a short story collection, I am glad I read it.

What is notable about the story?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how to accept when your life has taken a turn that you can’t come back from. This kind of event causes a break: a track of regret and a track of reality. The track of regret isn’t really a track, it’s more like how in cartoons they paint a road on a brick wall for Wile E. Coyote to run into. When the break happens I think we all stay at the fork in the road, slamming ourselves into that brick wall, denying that this track is no longer accessible to us. Some people live their whole lives at the break, others gather the strength to accept reality and move forward on the new path. The reality path isn’t necessarily better than regret, it’s just different.

Every story but one in this collection follows a character right up to this break and then…it ends. You’re left at the depression/disbelief/denial stage and then you’re asked to start over in a new story. I appreciated this approach very much. So many stories are about how people pick themselves up and made lemonade out of life’s lemons, but what about if the lemons are so rotten that there’s nothing to be done? I love the book club/literature discussions that could come out of each story: how would you feel if this was you? how would you move forward? what do you think life will be like for this character after the story we know ends? I believe the higher ups would call this writing thought provoking, and I agree.

Was anything not so great?

This is not a comment on Engel’s writing, just a reminder that for me, short stories are not the thing. Reading them is like riding in a car at 60mph on the highway but every ten minutes the driver SLAMS on the brakes to bring the car to a complete stop, then starts driving again. It is a testament to the quality of Engel’s storytelling that I read all of them and took an overall theme away with me, and a relatable one at that. If you like short story collections you have to pick this one up.

What’s the verdict?

4 stars on Goodreads. I’m impressed (and surprised) to give this collection my full endorsement. You would think it would be dark, but honestly it helps to know that none of us are alone in having terrible shit happen to us that we have to deal with. Relatable and excellently written – go get The Faraway World!

Was this review helpful?

These 10 short stories contrast dreams and reality. Money and religion are opposing pulls for Latinx characters as they ponder whether life will be better at home or elsewhere. My full review is at Shelf Awareness.

Was this review helpful?

Thank you to Avid Reader Press, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, and #Netgalley, for an early copy of this book for review. "The Faraway World" is another beautiful work by Patricia Engel. This collection of stories explores the lives of ten Colombian immigrants in the United States. Deep within the heart of this incredibly lyrical and stunning work is a yearning for connection for lives we create, inherit, and leave behind. Engel takes great care of her readers, exposing them to an honest and vivid descriptions of intense content at times, but maintaining a solid snapshot-length to separate the intensity. This book is another hit on Engel's end, one of my most anticipated releases of the coming year!

Was this review helpful?

The collection of short stories set in the Americas are fairly raw, depicting the
struggle of immigrants wanting to find a secure home in a foreign land, hankering for
not just the food of their cultures but even the sights and smells of something as
simple as a river or sea. The ones leftbehind seem to want to get out for a better
life not always economic. Some of them were running away from complicated lives involving
crime, drugs, family rifts without an end in sight.

All of the characters want to make good. Either financially and for many having stable
relationships - finding love with one person then sadly finding their hopes dashed when
a brighter competitor emerged, invariably with more to offer. The ladies seemed to like to
gamble with love, hoping that this relationship will be the lasting one. The men
predominantly took full advantageof what was on offer, reading the signs well, then
moving on to a more profitable partner. Most took the disappointment well, almost
looking at it as their fate with a stoicness which was very sad.

Each story dealt with a hard life in many ways, and each story was both moving and precise
in its description.

Was this review helpful?

“The Faraway World” – Patricia Engel

Having seen her novel “Infinite Country” all over Bookstagram, I was very excited to get an early copy of this from @netgalley and @avidreaderpress for an early look at this one – released 24th January 2023, keep an eye out!

“The Faraway World” is Engel’s first published collection of short stories, focusing on the lives of Latin Americans in the USA, Cuba and Colombia, reflecting and highlighting several immigrant experiences and the hard choices that they must make, the sacrifices and compromises that are made in pursuit of a better life.

I really enjoyed this collection, pondering several of the stories after completing them, left feeling somewhat uncomfortable and thinking about what I might do in similar situations. The collection starts with “Aida”, where one of twin sisters disappears, leaving her sister to deal with their parents’ unhappy marriage and her own feeling of deep loss. In “The Book of Saints”, a online relationship between an American divorcee and his Colombian online bride is told from both sides, progressing from “novia” to “mujer”, showing the inherent power imbalance, the snide and thoughtless comments of the man, yet also that some kind of bond forms between them. “The Bones of Cristóbal Colón” follows a woman trying to retrieve the stolen bones of her dead brother in Cuba, highlighting violence against the religious – “they don’t send you to a labor camp for being a religious anymore, but people still say it’s bad luck to be a priest in Cuba”.

I took great pleasure in this collection, finding it a thought-provoking read on culture clashes and morality, definitely keep an eye out for it when it comes out. This collection definitely makes me want to read Infinite Country all the more – have any of you read it? Would you recommend it?

Was this review helpful?

I enjoyed reading this and really enjoy Patricia Engel’s writing style. Some of the stories were gripping and thought-provoking, while others had elements I liked but ultimately fell flat. I wish there was more depth to these stories — I know they were short stories, but I was still left wanting more. Some of the writing felt very surface-level. And some of the stories were just dull.

Overall, I do think I will recommend this one to others who enjoy deep reflections on Latinidad, grief and immigration. But I was left feeling underwhelmed overall.

Was this review helpful?

So well written so lyrical each story drew me in.From first page to last I could not put these short stories down.The characters stay with me long after I finished the book. #netgalley #avidpress

Was this review helpful?

Well written but challenging stories that will likely stick with me for a while. The talent shines thru here, and I'll have to check out her other work.

I really appreciate the free ARC for review!!

Was this review helpful?

Highly recommend this one! This was my first book to read by this author but definitely won't be my last. The characters will stay with you long after you finish the book and you will find yourself wishing the story would never end.

Was this review helpful?

It is important to note that the majority of the themes explored in this book deal with sensitive subject matters. My review, therefore, touches on these topics as well. Many people might find the subject matters of the book as well as those detailed in my review overwhelming. I would suggest you steer clear of both if this is the case. Please note that from this point forward I will be writing about matters which contain reflections on abuse, animal abuse, child endangerment, violence, parental neglect, sexual abuse, psychological distress, & others.

I have split my thoughts into sections of this collection of short stories that transpire across Cuba, Colombia, & the United States, & see the inclusion of many other countries. Even though there were times when I felt that a specific story was not of great interest to me--that I was perhaps not enchanted with the narrative--I recognize good writing & good stories, & appreciate that Engel crafted a series of realities that can be, objectively, appreciated for all that they are. This is a wonderful collection & Engel's writing is pointed, fantastic, & engrossing.

Aida :
Salma begins talking to the reader in an attempt to recollect a moment in her life that was at once riddled with horror & also leaves her with an emptiness that is difficult to name. During an evening after their shifts at a part-time job, during their 16th year, Salma’s twin sister, Aida, vanishes in the time it takes her to lock-up shop & begin to make her way to their meeting point. Throughout the weeks that follow, Salma recounts the destruction that Aida’s disappearance caused her family; once masked trouble, now outwardly unhinged & poorly positioned, none of the members of the family are able to cope in ways which grant them any semblance of reprieve.

What is most troubling about this story is that the reader is never able to know Salma. We are certainly privy to some hints she gives us; those that require one to read between the lines. Yet, in all the pages that we read about her experiences being a twin & a daughter, Salma remains an enigma. Though she is certainly her own person & can appreciate that the world welcomes all as individuals, ever so much as we connect with each other, her relationships guide her throughout her days & result in rendering Salma a shadow of herself.

I wanted to hear more about Salma, I wanted to see her thrive. Yet, I knew that she was working against all the odds; she felt responsible for each of her parents as well as for the success of their marriage, she was the lone twin survivor of an attack she didn’t know was coming. Salma is just a kid & she never stood a chance. The only person in this life for whom she could rely on & share love was taken from her & in a final act of violence, hidden from her forever.

Fausto :
Within Miami’s Latin community, lives Paz, a woman who is in love with Fausto, a less-than-respected man. Paz is the daughter of a restaurant owner who practices his catholic beliefs very adamantly, if not religiously. In all the short period of time that Paz has known Fausto, her father has diligently expressed his discontent towards their relationship; he knows that Fausto is not a responsible, honest, genuine man & wants to see his daughter with someone more to her standard. Regardless of him vocalizing these opinions, Paz continues to spend time with Fausto. When he gets a side job working for a wealthy man in a white suit, Fausto recruits Paz under the guise that his brother needs her to bring him his new vehicle; the man who had no motivation for anything now has a career & a brand new vehicle.

This story unfolds after the events have long since transpired. Fausto’s recruitment of Paz as a driver was under false pretences. She was a mule driving a loaded vehicle to various sites for members of the industry to load & gather the items that were hidden in the build. It is at once repulsive that Fausto would do this to the person he knows frequents church 3-4 times a week, if not for her strict religious beliefs alone but, on top of this one knows that he asked her to perform these tasks so that he did not have to split the profit he was making.

I would love to say that I found something to appreciate in this story but, I was left with displeasure with regard to both the main players. Surely, Paz has redeeming qualities yet we are not privy to them. She sits waiting for a sign that her former lover, having fled to Colombia, will come back for her even after she stated she would never leave her father. Why would she do this? Of course, it is easy to say that love influenced her actions & opinions but she has so much going for her. I recognize that even if this is the case, it does take the person themselves to recognize their own potential, one can wish good things for another but it changes nothing unless that person wants good things for themselves. I suppose that is part of being human. Our decisions are made on the backs of thoughts we hope to be diligently reflected on yet, so often we find ourselves realizing our mistakes.

The Book of Saints :
In the joining of two worlds, a young girl endeavours to place an advertisement for an American husband; one who will distract her from the predatory ‘relationship’ she was having with her teacher—a man in his 50s. The dialogue shifts between the two characters in this story to reflect how a single experience might be interpreted in vastly different ways. The American man sought out a Colombia ‘girl’—as he specifically put it, someone under 30—after seeing his friends find success.

It was difficult for me to gauge whether or not either of the characters here was meant to be antagonists or protagonists. I am left feeling that the purpose was to present both characters as being entirely who they were—honest to a fault with themselves in their inner thoughts—while simultaneously keeping their essence hidden from their partner. It was revolting to read about Paola’s experiences of maneuvering a sexual relationship with her teacher, one that left her feeling sentiments of love & longing for a relationship that would take its place. She deserved better than that. All the while the new man she meets is a fraud seeking to vindicate his failures through someone who doesn’t know better.

I wanted to feel sorry for him at the end, watching cancer eat away at him but, I couldn’t. Paola was never seeking to harm him in anything & yet, for whatever reason, his thoughts constantly revolved around slicing her at the knees; preventing her from doing something she never showed an inclination to do. There is no ‘greener grass’, & yet I wish there were, for Paola’s sake.

Campoamor :
Vladimir lives with his parents in a run-down apartment in Cuba. He spends his time searching for meaning in all things but within himself; these endeavours do not lead him far. Though he thinks of himself as a writer, he never writes & though he has many ideas, he connects with none of them. In all his time frequenting the beds of Natasha & Lily, he realizes that neither woman really knows him entirely; the essence of himself is lost within the crevices of his mind. As the government makes its rounds offering to pay-out residents to begin revitalizing the city, Natasha & Vladimir begin the process of immigration to the United States. 

The tone of this story is very bleak & though there are many instances of physical proximity, the narrator maintains his distance throughout it all. I find this aspect to be most enticing as he appears to be someone who revels in the proximity he can acquire & the physical gain he can amass by being with Natasha & Lily, all the while hiding from everyone. His parents regard him as a child, though he is in his late twenties, while both Natasha & Lily view him as a representation of what they hope a man could be--something that suits them. 

It’s interesting that a person can be so much themselves while at once having no substance. What distinguishes Vladimir from the shadow figures in this city? What enticed these women to lead him into their lives; allowing him to experience intimacy with each while keeping their blinders on for those parts of him that left much to be desired? I really enjoyed this story because of the presence of a person who wasn’t actually present at all.

Guapa :
Indiana came to New York State because her mother wanted her to live the ‘American Dream’ but that didn’t seem to be in the cards for me. In lieu of a family, a house, & a good-paying career, Indiana spends all the money she makes at her factory job on getting cosmetic surgery. Though she voices there being an end goal in her pursuits, she is the victim of an automobile accident that amputates her legs, before she can complete her cosmetic pursuits. All these are done under the guise of making her beautiful. We know nothing about her except the parts of herself that have been altered due to the perception of others. 

She expresses having lost ownership over her body upon birth, having been overfed by her parent which led her to be obese for the entirety of her life, up until she began starving herself & undergoing cosmetic procedures. This is insanely sad, for however brutally apathetic Indiana seems to be, she retains everything around her as a sponge does to water. It is as though she is only who she is because of someone else. Though this aspect was disheartening, the author performed her transcription of bland inner monologues, perfectly. The accident that regressed Indiana into someone who was once again dependent on her parent was shocking & sorrowful.

I cannot say for certain that there was any reasoning as to why Indiana chose to do what she did. Did she love Edgar or was he simply the pawn present when the position needed to be filled? Did she enjoy companionship or was the social norm something she saw fit to accept? In the end, I do not feel that I know her at all & I suppose that this was the intent; a person everyone recognizes but who remains distant enough that she doesn’t even truly know herself. 

La Ruta :
Margarito lives in Cuba & works as a taxi driver. One afternoon he meets a young woman who is on a quest to fulfill her promise to the Saints. She vowed to visit the church every day for a year in the hopes that her prayer is heard; that her aunt in America considers taking the steps to begin the immigration process for her & her spouse. All the while Margarito deals with, what appears to be, a toxic relationship with his long-term partner.

I have very little to say regarding this story for at this point I considered not finishing the book. This story did not bring any new format or information to the surroundings & having read five (5) previous stories that resembled this one, I was tired of the familiarity. Another reason for which I did not like this story very much was because of the relationship that Florence has with Margarito; the constant bickering, nagging, & threats of abandonment, all grew to be too much & I lost patience. I am sure there is something here for readers to appreciate, but I am not one such reader.

* Of note: there is a section in this story where something is compared to "Frankenstein" as in the 'beast' but Frankenstein is the scientist; "The Monster" is his creation, therefore the comparison to something decrepit doesn't make sense & should be edited. *

Ramiro :
Chana meets Ramiro when they are serving time cleaning a local church; both under the watchful eyes of the personnel & the religious figures that watch over the edifice. Chana was given an ultimatum, either she work diligently at servicing the church or she was sent away to a school for troubled youth. Ramiro has been part of a local gang for almost all of his life; his prison sentence was commuted to labour with the assistance of the priest who would guide him through this stage. Both characters have their cards set against themselves.

I appreciated that Ramiro’s character seems to play a central role in this story yet, Chana was the person who ultimately paid the price for the depth of actions we were never privy to. Certainly skipping school is unproductive in terms of finishing the required level of schooling. However, the complexities of her relationship with her mother breeze over the pages while she emphasizes that Ramiro was able to change & seize the day, whereas she waited for her parent to save her from the circumstances she left her in.

The Bones of Cristóbal Colón :
Joaquin’s remains have been stolen & his sister Elena, the remaining family member, is left to find them a new burial place. Not unlike Christopher Columbus, whose bones have been stolen, shared, & transferred between countries, Elena cannot locate a final resting place for her brother. During this process, Elena’s old lover, Marco, returns to Cuba & wants to start seeing her again, behind his wife’s back. This seedy character is everything Joaquin warned he would be.

This is an unfortunate story, Elena roams in something of a grimy place all her life. That is not necessarily her environment, but her choices never lead her to green pastures. She loves a man who would rather leave the country with another woman than be able to speak earnestly with Elena; her brother was murdered after becoming ordained; her mother a pious woman kept her daughter under her thumb reminding her of her brother’s superior worth. I wanted to see her experience more but, she refuses to budge, like mould in drywall.

Libélula :
An anonymous recounting from the perspective of a woman who went abroad with her husband, divorced, then began working as a housekeeper. In this story, she reveals the proximity to the lady of the house with whom she shares many similarities but to whom she remains an enigma or a shadow figure of what might be a human being with a complex reality. Though they share a home, the lady of the house remains distant, selecting her path in life so as to secure herself the kind of existence she feels she deserves, all while maintaining something of a total lack of self-awareness. Yet, one is left feeling her panic throughout her struggle to maintain her position.

I appreciated this story’s flow & the way that both women meet again while travelling back to their home countries, though their situations vary they employ the same transit system, making the list of similarities they share elongate. I felt that this story was told at the perfect length for truly there is nothing left to say. A secret child, an employee who leaves in the middle of the silence that hovers over an empty house, a dissatisfied husband, a wife who settled in wealth. All the characters in which story are complex but the author sees fit to keep the reader at bay, just enough to leave them feeling unsettled by the closeness they weave with each other, in something of a rickety bridge over troubled waters.

Aguacero :
A woman who called herself Sarah, meets a man named Juan in a moment of faith, standing at the side of the road awaiting public transportation. Over the course of twenty (20) days, Sarah is able to work through her trauma-induced insomnia, while Juan is allowed to inhabit the world between his realities in peace with someone who asks nothing of him. Together they share parts of themselves; sitting for meals, sleeping throughout the night, wandering the streets in a friendship that gifts them both the promise of tranquillity. Yet, when the time comes for Juan to return to his realities, those that he shares with his family, his child, & his girlfriends; they never speak again.

What renders this story so poignant is the void of the entirety of the self, proclaimed through words, transmitted through actions that are comforted by those of a stranger. Without Juan, Sarah struggled to work through her post-traumatic stress, induced by a sexual assault. Without Sarah, Juan hides within himself completely missing from the world around him. Together, for only a moment, the author reveals how greatly we can be impacted by the simple presence of another, without so much as a request for aid; our partnerships, intimacies, & relationships can shape us into the people we are in the world. I appreciated this story a great deal.

Thank you to NetGalley, Avid Reader Press & Patricia Engel for the free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

Was this review helpful?