Not even a quarter of the way through Patricia Engel’s The Veins of the Ocean, readers will realize they’re getting sort of angry. Narrated by Reina, a young woman who emigrated with her family from Cartagena, Colombia to Miami, these pages are a compendium of the lousy ways men can treat women and the reasons women put up with it. Babies are tossed from bridges because men think their women are cheating on them. Reina’s parents got married because her father raped her mother and her mother wanted to avoid scandal. Reina allows all manner of men to paw at her. She is utterly devoted to her incarcerated brother despite his lack of remorse as a child murderer. Does he return such devotion? Not a chance.
Reina is resigned to all this; she expects nothing of men when it comes to commitment, responsibility or even respect. But then she meets Nesto.
Nesto is not like any man Reina has ever met. An orisha-worshipping Cuban émigré, he is genuinely interested in how she thinks and feels. He longs for the children he left back in Cuba—and he even had them with the same woman, to whom he was once married. Very few things have worked out in Reina’s life. Can she take a chance on this gentle, handsome, enigmatic man?
Reina and Nesto’s story is enhanced by Engel’s sensuous writing. The reader can see the different shades of blue of the ocean, the greens of palms and sea grapes, the smells of the semi-tropics. But 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.