Sundial's October Book Club Pick Explores Trauma And Exile In South Florida

Oct 9, 2018

Author Patricia Engel first had the idea for her latest novel while driving in Miami with her mom more than 10 years ago.

When they drove over a bridge, Engel's mother told her a story about a man who threw a baby off a bridge. But she didn’t know any more details about the tragedy. That left Engel wondering.

This conversation led to what's now "The Veins of the Ocean," published in 2016, which tells a similar story. It's Sundial Book Club’s October pick.

The story follows Reina, a young woman who fights to protect her family from a series of horrific tragedies. It’s a story about being an exile, both physically and emotionally. And it’s about finding one’s identity after tragedy. Engel joined Sundial to talk about her book and why South Florida was significant to the creation of the story.

WLRN: One of the themes throughout the story is this idea that the sins of parents are carried onto their children. Go a little bit into detail about how children can carry anger, rage and violence from their parents from generation to generation.

Engel: One of the challenges of taking a single image and converting it into a story is -- who is going to tell this story? Who would have access to all the information of what actually happened before, during and after? I struggled for a while trying to decide if the surviving baby should tell the story as an adult or if the man who committed the crime or a witness, an innocent bystander. I came up with the sister to the baby who was thrown over the bridge. She's the one who was closest to them all. She has the ability to not feel judgment. She has empathy because she's connected to them by blood but at the same time she has all the information necessary to convey that to the reader.

And that's our protagonist Reina.

Yes, she's the narrator of the story, but at the same time she bears the burden of the crime because the original crime was committed by her father against her brother when he was a baby and then the crime was repeated by her brother doing the same to his girlfriend's child. I wanted to explore how trauma is often repeated even when it goes against all our impulses to do so. There are all sorts of trauma that Reina has assumed in her own life personally and privately in her childhood. And then there's trauma that she's inherited from her mother and her grandmother. Also this kind of trauma that she has acquired as a result of her brother's action.

Who is Reina?

Reina to me is someone who is far more intelligent than she is given credit for because she is what some people would consider undereducated and no one has ever had high hopes for her.

And she spends her life doing what her mother did.

Yes, she paints nails. She's been underestimated and undervalued by basically everyone in her community even in her own family. She is a person who has endured and suffered a lot which has given her strength. She's still in the process of understanding all that she needs to overcome.

Some time passes, Reina has to escape and she really has to go into sort of an exile. Why did you decide that she had to move to the Florida Keys?

In a lot of ways, it's a book about displacement. It's about emotional exile, geographic exile and Reina came to the United States as a baby. She was one of those involuntary immigrants. Her parents brought her here and took her away from her birth country. I wanted her to choose where she would live and at that moment she wants to get away from everyone who knows her. She's grown up in this very small South Florida community and kind of living in the public shame because of her brother being in the headlines. I knew that she would want to reinvent herself or at least live life without reminders of everything she represents -- this kind of living representation of this horrible crime committed by her brother.

And the Florida Keys seems like a place where there's just a seclusion and a disconnect from the rest of the world.

It is very close but it's also a world away.