The Veins of the Ocean

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  • Dayton Literary Peace Prize Winner
  • New York Times Editors' Choice
  • International Latino Book Award Finalist
  • Chautauqua Prize Longlist
  • A San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of the Year
  • Book of the Month Club Selection


"Sumptuous . . . richly layered . . . Engel writes with a raw realism that elevates her characters’ mundane existence — their failures and failings, hopes and dreams, pleasures and pains — to something majestic. At the heart of her storytelling is a deep sense of compassion. This is a writer who understands that exile can be as much an emotional state as a geographical one, that the agony of leaving tugs against the agony of being left behind. She sees the potential danger faced by young women encountering the world and grasps with acute precision the “mixed-up, messy sort of love” that can shackle together the members of a family. To immerse oneself in Engel’s prose is to surrender to a seductive embrace, a hypnotic beauty that mingles submersion with submission . . . "
Lucy Scholes, New York Times Book Review

"Since her debut in 2010 with the radiant story collection “Vida,” Engel, a writer of Colombian origins, has been a rising star in both U.S. and Latin American literature. “The Veins of the Ocean” — her third book, and second novel — establishes her as a unique and necessary voice for the Americas . . . Reina’s voice is so lucid and nakedly honest that the book is a great pleasure to read, even while it’s breaking your heart. Ultimately, though, “The Veins of the Ocean” is not interested in leaving the reader in the depth of the characters’ pain, but rather carries us through the pain and beyond it. This, mercifully, is a book as concerned with transforming the human condition as it is with the unflinching examination of its wounds. It takes place in a world full of borders, violence and prison walls, and, also, in a world where the stunning beauty of a wild dolphin can take your breath away and give you the strength to get free. It takes place in three lands separated by yawning political chasms, and, also, in three lands linked by the sea, by the mysterious sea, brimming with beauty, life and power. In short, it is our world, mirrored back to us, revealed anew."
Carolina De Robertis, San Francsico Chronicle

"Fast paced, irresistibly alluring . . . Engel's novel reaffirms her talent, which was first displayed in her story collection, Vida, and which has grown with each succeeding book. Engel's voice is lyrical, in a no-nonsense sort of way . . . she has an all-seeing eye that misses nothing of importance for the reader. The Veins of the Ocean is a tale of redemption and restoration that believes forgiveness is unattainable until one forgives oneself. And the awful burden of knowledge can be lifted through storytelling, the transference of memory into narrative, an essential duty, ‘if only to tell someone else one day what was, what could have been, and what will never be again.’"
The Miami Herald

The Veins of the Ocean is lush and entrancing, steeped in love and sorrow, faith and myth. This is a novel about redemption and place and home and the bonds of family, how inescapable they are, for better and worse . . . Patricia Engel is a gorgeous writer and I love the confidence of her prose. She knows the story she is telling, inside and out. She knows the story and its unfathomable depths and so that's how we experience reading this novel—fully, deeply, like an ocean."
Roxane Gay, Book of the Month

"A poignant voyage toward freedom . . . the lost, the exiled and the imprisoned float upon a sea of lush language, searching for a horizon that will offer them hope. Engel makes it a worthy trip, filled with fascinating characters and beautiful prose."
Tampa Bay Times

"A haunting and touching tale of how the women in a Colombian family are torn apart by the misdeeds of their men.  Reina Castillo is forced to face the reality of life, immigration and loyalty after the death of her brother irreparably changes her life plans . . . The way in which the Castillo’s story is told puts a harsh and realistic light on the oppression of the Latino people, both in their home countries and the treatment they receive once in the United States . . . However, the end of the book leaves the reader with faith in the world and trust in the future."
- Book Riot, "Best Books of 2016, So Far"

“Sensuous . . . Engel’s compassion for her people, the poverty-stricken Hispanic immigrants and refugees who’ve jumped from the fire of their native countries into the frying pan of the United States, is boundless. She even makes you understand why the men around Reina do what they do, even if she doesn’t absolve them. The Veins of the Ocean reminds us of the importance of love, respect, family and forgiveness.”

" . . . Reina grieves for her brother. She grieves for her country. She grieves for her mother, seemingly despite herself, and for the freedom of the caged animals she works with at a dolphin shelter lining the coast; and while a lesser writer might be tempted to construe this longing into its near-cousin, pity, Engel’s transcends this pitfall by embracing the emotion. It is a part of Reina’s journey—it is a part of everyone’s journey. True to life, none of them knows their exact destination. But for each of them, it’s a solid thing. A real thing. It sits in the reader’s gut. And, ultimately, The Veins of the Ocean feels less like of a story about grief, than one woman’s growth within the grief itself. . . But as Reina discovers, there is no fixing loss. It must be ridden out, given what it needs to develop. And while she may never find exactly what it is she’s looking for, her decision to continue searching is transcendence in itself. Engel understands that this is the most that her characters—that anyone—can reasonably ask for. It’s a lesson that is well worth taking to heart. And, in her grieving, Engel has largely written a book about the other side of the grief, the one thing that warrants the pain in the end: love."

"The Veins of the Ocean is a big story, pulling a hundred threads into one cohesive narrative. Engel binds these stories together into a meditation on freedom, using her novel to explore its meaning, its manipulation, how the human heart can both crave and sacrifice it . . . As a storyteller, Engel moves as swiftly and unexpectedly as life. It’s a testament to Engel’s skill that, while stretching the narrative across countries, oceans, and generations, she manages to keep her novel small and intimate—a feat she accomplishes largely through language. In a novel about water, Engel treats her words like water, powerful but tender. She mimics the ebb and flow of the ocean, pulling the reader in and holding them under a kind of enchantment."
Fields Magazine

"Engel's work is often backdropped by diaspora, but in The Veins of the Ocean she tackles immigration head on via the story of a Colombian woman escaping her family's past."
O, The Oprah Magazine, "Writers on the Rise"

"The Veins of the Ocean is an indelible novel of loss, grief, and redemption. Patricia Engel has created a world that is at once and dangerous, authentic and poetic, harrowing and hopeful."
Laila Lalami, author of The Moor's Account

"Engel's voice is raw and emotional, and she writes a dark  family dynamic with a brutal honesty that is at once both refreshing and painful. But through it all, love remains the constant thread in Reina Castillo's story. And that love helps her to discover who she is both within and without her broken family."
Book Riot

"Engel’s language is rich, evocative, and easily transports you to another place. But beautiful settings don’t protect against violence — look at Marquez’s short story “The Most Handsome Drowned Man in the World” — and here the beauty of Reina Castillo’s surroundings heightens the brutality of the men around her."
Electric Literature

"A powerful novel of guilt, redemption, love, and connection . . . Engel’s writing is terrifyingly lyrical, pulling the reader along like the gentle waves of the shore. The novel is a masterful work that dives as deep into the nature of guilt and shame as it does the ocean. The Veins of the Ocean is a force of nature in itself, and probably in this writer’s opinion one of the best works to come out this year."

"The Veins of the Ocean reminds us of all of the prisons we make for ourselves, and for each other: not just the horrors of solitary confinement for criminals, but those of guilt and shame, of heredity and expectations, of the sacrifices that we tell ourselves are necessary for our safety, of the artificial, but no less forceful boundaries between countries and cultures. And then Engel deliberately dismantles those walls, screw by screw, plank by plank, page by page. As they fall away, we hold our breath. The vastness of the world, the expanse of the boundless ocean, giving ourselves to another, they are risk and reward. They are freedom. But I digress. What you really need to know is that The Veins of the Ocean is an exhilarating love story, beautifully told."
—Sara Hinckley, Hudson Booksellers

"In a novel that is vitally relevant today when the word refugee has such loaded connotations, Engel delivers a pulsating and deeply introspective take on how family, love, and guilt can both 'chain us together' and set us free."
Booklist (starred review)

"Engel has crafted a detailed, rich world of vivid atmosphere and imagery . . . But through it all rises Reina's voice—her belief in optimism, in family, in the importance of life."

“Moving . . . beautifully wrought and vibrant . . . a compelling meditation on guilt, nature, redemption, and the immigrant experience.”

"Patricia Engel capture avec justesse et poésie l'esprit des communautés caribéennes en nous contant l'histoire d'un possible retour à la vie qui résonne avec force en chacun de nous."
Le Figaro (France)


From award-winning author, Patricia Engel, The Veins of the Ocean is the profound and riveting story of a young woman’s journey away from her family’s painful past towards redemption and a freer future. Reina Castillo’s beloved brother is serving a death sentence for a crime that shocked the community—a crime for which Reina secretly blames herself. When she is at last released from her seven-year prison vigil, Reina moves to a sleepy town in the Florida Keys seeking anonymity, and meets Nesto, a recently exiled Cuban awaiting the arrival of the children he left behind in Havana. Through Nesto’s love of the sea and capacity for faith, Reina comes to understand her own connections to the life-giving and destructive forces of the ocean that surrounds her, as well as its role in her family’s troubled history and their crossing of the Caribbean to make the United States their home. 

Set in the vibrant coastal communities of Miami, the Florida Keys, Havana, Cuba, and Cartagena, Colombia, The Veins of the Ocean is a wrenching exploration of what happens when life tests the limits of compassion, and a stunning and unforgettable portrait of fractured lives finding solace in the beauty and power of the natural world, and in one another.

Reading Group Guide