The Veins of the Ocean by Patricia Engel was suggested by Roxane Gay, so of course, I put it on the top of my TBR list.
The Veins of the Ocean is set in Florida – Miami and the Keys – Cuba and Columbia. It is told from the perspective of Reina Castillo who is struggling with the pressures of the past and the frustration with the future. Her brother is on death row after throwing his girlfriend’s daughter off the same bridge his father once threw him off of. Reina struggles with feeling responsible for her brother’s actions and once he is gone, moves from Miami to the Florida Keys to try to grieve and rebuild her life, but she is haunted by a generation of bad deeds.
There she meets and connects with Nesto, a Cuban exile, who is struggling to bring his children over to the U.S. He seems to spend half his life with his heart in Cuba and the other half in America. Nesto and Reina’s relationship is tentative and cautious at the surface, but in reality they begin to deeply connect.
I enjoyed this novel, but there were points where it seemed to drag a bit with drawn out memories and descriptions. Engel returns again and again to the theme of confinement and freedom through the character of Reina; as she seeks freedom for herself and everything she encounters, even a dolphin at the dolphinarium where she eventually lands a job. Through her connection with Nesto and his strong belief in faith, Reina eventually seems able to put the past behind her.
I thought Reina’s visit to Cartagena, Columbia where her parents came from and where she spent summers in and her visit to Nesto’s Havana were the most vivid and alive. Engel seemed on the most solid footing in those sections.