The Veins of the Ocean by Patricia Engel
Reina Castillo’s brother is serving a life sentence in prison for a terrible crime: the murder of a child. She visits him with unwavering devotion, blaming herself, until the day he ends his life. Set adrift, she moves down to the Florida Keys to start a new life where no one knows who she is and where she came from. Working in the Keys she meets Nesto Cadena, an immigrant from Cuba determined to bring his children to America. As a deep friendship grows between them Reina is called to discover what lies beneath the waves around her home and the guilt eating at her heart.
It took me a while to get into this novel, but I am glad I took the time. It seems superficial to start: the sordid story of a family with a seedy background, but the narrative quickly dives deep. The language is beautiful, the plot steeped in the rich cultures of Cuba and Colombia. The pace is meditative, as Reina confronts the factors that led her to the place and woman she finds herself. Opportunities for self-reflection arise as organically as waves bubbling over the shore: encounters with people from her past, both chance and deliberate, recurring questions about whether it is better to save your own hide or reach out to a suffering creature. Questions of family and faith. The resolution of Reina’s story is both complete and satisfying to the soul.
In the end, I was glad I took a chance on this beautifully written novel. It left me looking forward to the next month’s BOTM selections!