Published by Grove Atlantic on May 3, 2016
Genres/Lists: Diverse, Fiction
Read synopsis on Goodreads
Buy the book: Amazon/Audible (this post includes affiliate links)
Reina had a hard life. Her relationship with her mother is complicated and she was raised believing she was cursed. By the age of 30, her brother was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. Living with her own private guilt for her role in her brother’s crime, she gave up her own life to remain by his side as best she could. So when Carlito dies, Reina is forced to confront the life ahead of her and reconcile herself to her past.
The Veins of the Ocean by Patricia Engel is a wonderful book, although it wasn’t what I expected. It stays true to the synopsis, which is that Reina takes off to the Florida Keys to rebuild her life, but it is so much more than that. It’s about immigrants seeking refuge, the toll leaving home can take on you, the haunting shame that can come with it, and finding solace and salvation within the wreckage. It is deeply entrenched in Cuban and Colombian cultures and histories, so while it takes place in the Florida Keys, it is rich in diversity (so much so that I had to stop Googling translations because it was disconnecting me from the story, but in hindsight it wasn’t that many).
Reina is, perhaps, one of the most flawed characters I’ve come across in quite awhile. Her guilt pervades every aspect of her life, leaving her with an inability to let anyone get close to her and to assume the worst of everyone. This is, in part, because she projects her own diminished view of her self worth on others, but also because of her difficult upbringing where her main supporter was her brother. When her brother is sentenced to death for an atrocious crime, she retreats into herself and walls herself off from the world. For a long time, this was enough. She held a job, socialized a bit, and dutifully visited her brother every weekend. But it also left her disconnected from reality – her attempt at a life was eclipsed by her brother, the light that cast a shadow upon her.If you like books about escaping the wreckage to seek solace, read The Veins of the Ocean by @patricia_engel. Click To Tweet
Only upon his death does she begin to rebuild her life, but even that is an accident – her move being sparked by a desire to runaway to a place where no one knows her or her past. Finding herself in the Florida Keys, she meets Nesto, a Cuban immigrant with his own haunting past. His story is just as prominent as Reina’s and is equally important, although he is not the main focus of the book. But it is Nesto who helps Reina to discover the ocean, for despite growing up near it, she did not know it. And the ocean, with its power and strength to sustain both itself and the life within, takes on a spiritual component with great significance. At times it becomes an odd mix of a story and a story of someone telling a story. A quick Google search tells me that these stories are rooted in the Yoruba religion and they are beautiful in their own right.
There were times when I was reading this book that I felt a bit distanced and needed to refocused, but more often that not I fell into that trance-like state of reading where the entire world around me disappeared. While it has some loose ends and some awkward transitions, my overall impression is a positive one. While The Veins of the Ocean wasn’t quite what I expected, it is a moving story of one woman’s resilience and the power of the ocean.