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The Veins Of The Ocean by Patricia Engel

The Veins Of The Ocean manages to take a topic that is beyond horrifying and infuse a modicum of humanity into it.

Reina Castillo's brother, Carlito, is serving a death sentence. It's a crime that's shocked the community -- throwing a baby off a bridge.

But the irony is that Carlito's father did the exact same thing to him when he was a child. The only difference, is that Carlito survived. 

Whether it's ridden with guilt or the unconditional love of a devoted sister, Reina stands by her brother, visiting him regularly in prison and fighting for his case to be released. What kind of person would she be if she abandoned her brother? She's the only thing that reminds him of his humanity lest he be no better than a caged animal. 

This is Reina's life. Messy. Lonely. Complicated. She only gives a few tiny slices of herself to others. Mostly, the pieces she thinks they like, the bits they can handle. She's the girl who smiles in spite of everything; fronting a cheery Jungian veneer. The rest of her life she lives for her brother. 

After Castillo's death, Reina aims to seek anonymity and moves to a sleepy town in the Florida Keys. There she meets Nesto Cadena, a Cuban who has migrated to the states in search for a better life for his family back home. Like Reina, he too feels displaced, and the two strike up a friendship that neither have experienced before. 

But it is never easy to escape our memories and thoughts. Even though Carlito is dead, and even though she's far away from Cartagena, Columbia, Reina still feels like she has to pay for her brother's crimes. It is after all what family and love does, it chains us together - in life and the hereafter. 

Anyone who had had the pleasure of experiencing the magnificent intensity of the ocean, also understands its powerful ability to sooth. Nesto introduces Reina to the ocean and teaches her how to dive. She remembers a time when she was a child, how her mother would take her into water and how she'd feel time suspended in her Mami's embrace. She feels a sadness, wanting desperately to return to those moments upon reminiscing how the ways of life have hardened their relationship. 

As Reina is introduced to a new world of dolphins, it draws more questions for her than answers. Dolphins in captivity touch her heart in the same manner that memories of her brother in captivity did. Nesto tells her that the dolphins are taught the ways of pen-life, although there's not much to teach about living in a cage. He says it's a process of submission, which any animal can figure out on its own. 

The banter between the trainer and Reina also layers on the absurdity of it all. It's just emblematic of how author Patricia Engel deftly inserts political and societal messages into The Veins Of The Ocean. As a reader, it amuses us while edging a slight shift in our thinking, as we too start to question the validity of the norms in our world. 

Despite the intensity of the subject matter, there is a fluid ease in reading Particia Engel's The Veins Of The Ocean. The beauty perhaps lies somewhat in the prose and the storytelling. The chapters are definitely shorter, although this is not the only reason. What it really comes down to, is that Patricia Engel holds our interest with a compelling plot line and a journey we willingly embark upon with Reina. But there's more. 

The Veins Of The Ocean actually enriches our lives with new information that we have never experienced before. Insights make us think about our society and challenge us. Sonorous vivid voices of places we have never been, transport us to a colourful world. Moreover, Engel's turn of phrase gives us a history that we may not have been privy to. 

For example, there's an episode concerning Reina's jumping out of a moving vehicle on the Snapper Creek Expressway to escape from an potentially dangerous sexual assault. Miraculously she doesn't get killed, but the bigger mystery she reckons -- and the subtle societal critique -- is why no one stopped to ask if she was okay or why she had jumped out of a moving car in the first place. 

The Veins Of The Ocean has been named one of the most anticipated books of 2016 by Buzzfeed and The Huffington Post, and the reason is clear. Patricia Engel has the ability to fine-tune a story and make it seem raw at the same time. She is an author who cares about her craft and it shows. 

The Veins Of The Ocean is published by Grove Press, and distributed by Publishers Group Canada

Blog post by @ShilpaRaikar (Creative and Social Media strategist, decor enthusiast and book lover, who also writes for a branding blog:, as well as a lifestyle blog: T: @SukasaStyle) 

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