Grove Press
Grove Press
Grove Press

The Veins of the Ocean

by Patricia Engel

The extraordinary new novel from award-winning author Patricia Engel, The Veins of the Ocean is a heartrending story of one woman’s devotion to her death row-convicted brother and her journey away from a painful past.

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 432
  • Publication Date May 09, 2017
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-2674-0
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $17.00
  • Imprint Grove Hardcover
  • Page Count 416
  • Publication Date May 03, 2016
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-2489-0
  • Dimensions 6" x 9"
  • US List Price $25.00

About The Book

A New York Times Editors’ Choice and a finalist for the International Latino Book Award

“Lush and entrancing, steeped in love and sorrow, faith and myth. . . 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 for Book of the Month Club

New York Times Notable author Patricia Engel returns to the exuberant and gritty American immigrant experience introduced in her award-winning breakout debut, Vida. Reina Castillo is the alluring young woman whose beloved brother is serving a death sentence for a crime that shocked the community, throwing a baby off a bridge—a crime for which Reina secretly blames herself. With her brother’s death, though devastated and in mourning, Reina is finally released from her prison vigil. Seeking anonymity, she moves to a sleepy town in the Florida Keys where she meets Nesto Cadena, a recently exiled Cuban awaiting with hope 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, in their companionship, begins to find freedom from the burden of guilt she carries for her brother’s crime.

Set in the vibrant coastal and Caribbean communities of Miami, the Florida Keys, Havana, Cuba, and Cartagena, Colombia, with The Veins of the Ocean Patricia Engel delivers a profound and riveting Pan-American story of fractured lives finding solace and redemption in the beauty and power of the natural world, and in one another.

Tags Literary


“Engel has an eye for detail. She knows how to drown the reader in a sense of enchantment . . . She writes exquisite moments.” —Roxane Gay, Nation

“Sumptuous . . . [a] plunge into deeper, darker realms . . . the novel offers proof of its author’s developing maturity . . . 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 . . . 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

“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

“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)

“Fast-paced, irresistibly alluring . . . Engel’s voice is lyrical . . . she has an all-seeing eye that misses nothing . . . The Veins of the Ocean is a tale of redemption and restoration that believes forgiveness is unattainable until one forgives oneself.” —Miami Herald

“A haunting and touching tale . . . Engel’s writing is powerfully descriptive and lyrical . . . the book leaves the reader with faith in the world.” —Book Riot, one of the Best Books of the Year So Far

“Engel takes on a lot in this bubbling stew of a novel . . . [A] great pleasure.” —Toronto Star

“Poignant . . . a sea of lush language . . . The Veins of the Ocean is [Engel’s] best yet . . . filled with fascinating characters and beautiful prose.” —Tampa Bay Times

“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 [this] story.” —Book Riot

“Patricia Engel’s voice just gets more precise and more ferociously focused with each book. Her ability to illustrate all sides of the struggle that is human nature is astonishing. This book breaks your heart and makes you cheer throughout. I love her writing. Love it.” —Lucy Kogler, Talking Leaves Books

“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

“[A] profound, daring venture . . . with a rare intelligence, juxtaposing the crushing separations and struggles experienced by immigrants with the power of connection, as embodied by the sea . . . [Engel is] a unique and necessary voice for the Americas . . . so lucid and nakedly honest that the book is a great pleasure to read, even while it’s breaking your heart . . . 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.” —San Francisco Chronicle


A New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice
Finalist for the International Latino Book Award
A Best Book of the Year for the San Francisco Chronicle, Entropy Magazine, and Electric Literature


When he found out his wife was unfaithful, Hector Castillo told his son to get in the car because they were going fishing. It was after midnight but this was nothing unusual. The Rickenbacker Bridge hanging over Biscayne Bay was full of night fishermen leaning over the railings, catching up on the gossip over beer and fishing lines, avoiding going home to their wives. Except Hector didn’t bring any fishing gear with him. He led his son, Carlito, who’d just turned three, by the hand to the cement wall, picked him up by his waist and held him so that the boy grinned and held his arms out like a bird, telling his papi he was flying, flying, and Hector said, Si, Carlito, tienes alas, you have wings.

Then Hector pushed little Carlito up into the air, spun him around, and the boy giggled, kicking his legs up and about, telling his father, “Higher Papi! Higher!” before Hector took a step back and with all his might hoisted the boy as high in the sky as he’d go, told him he loved him and threw his son over the railing into the sea.

Nobody could believe it. The night fishermen thought they were hallucinating but one, a sixty-year-old Marielito, didn’t hesitate and went in after Carlito, jumping feetfirst into the black bay water while the other fishermen tackled Hector so that he couldn’t run away.

Reading Group Guide

Reading Group Guide by Keturah Jenkins

1. The novel opens with a line from Cuban protest singer Carlos Varela, “Beyond the sun, beyond the sea, beyond God, a little further beyond.” How does this pertain to the characters in the novel? What are they moving beyond?

2. The novel is narrated by Reina Castillo. Consider why Engel chose to tell the story from her point of view. What does the author gain by using Reina as the narrator? Do you consider her to be a reliable narrator? Why or why not? How would the novel be changed had Carlito been chosen to tell the story instead? Do you think there was a missed opportunity to tell a different story? Explain your answers.

3. Guilt is a major theme throughout the novel. Evaluate the role of guilt in the lives of the characters. What are the different characters guilty of? How do the characters deal with their guilt? Does it compel them to try and right past wrongs, or make them more culpable? Is the guilt justifiable? Explain.

4. Discuss the relevance of the title, The Veins of the Ocean. Consider what the author is attempting to say about how the ocean acts as a lifeline for the characters. Find examples in the novel of how the characters are linked to the ocean. What does the title mean to you?

5. One reviewer has written that Engel “understands that exile can be as much an emotional state as a geographical one.” Do you agree or disagree with that assessment? Provide examples of both types of exile found in the novel. How do the characters handle their exile? How do they go about freeing themselves?

6. Consider the role of family in the lives of the characters. In what way is the Castillo family different from your own? In what way are they similar? Discuss the relationship between Reina and Carlito. Give examples of how their relationship might be considered unhealthy.

7. At one point Carlito says, “Religions are just another gang to join for protection” (p.46). What does the author mean by this? What role does Afro-Cuban religion play in the novel? Discuss the spiritual themes and how the traditional stories known as patak’s enrich the story.

8. How does the author use Reina’s dreams to foreshadow upcoming events? Why do you think her dreams changed once she arrived in Cuba?

9. Provide examples of the ways in which the natural world is represented in the novel. How are the characters’ lives changed by the presence of nature?

10. Isabella wishes Reina well and forgives her, saying “we’ve outlived our penance.” Why do you think she decides to do this? What would you have done in her place? Would you have handled things the same or differently? Explain your opinions.

11. Mrs. Castillo is not identified by name until much later in the novel. By doing this, what is the author saying about Reina’s relationship with her mother? What is the mother’s role in the story? What is her power? What effect do men have on the mother’s life? Why doesn’t Reina introduce Nesto to her mother? How does Mamí serve as a foil for Reina?

12. Evaluate what the author is trying to illustrate about the different meanings of the words “prison” and “freedom.” How are these words applied to the characters in the book?

13. Carlito’s shocking actions help to separate his family from the community they live in. What prejudices and hardships do they experience because of this? Discuss the reasons why a family might choose to remain in an area during the aftermath of a tragedy. What would your decision be in this type of situation?

14. How does the author use Colombia and Cuba to explore duality and the immigrant experience? What deeper meaning do the countries hold for the characters? How does Miami function as a character in the novel?

15. On page 128, Reina says, “But if Nesto is to know me at all, he has to know I am my brother’s crime.” What does she mean by this? Why does she decide at that moment to bare her soul to Nesto? Think about the importance of Nesto and what his role is to the story.

16. Consider Carlito’s lack of awareness and remorse, “I am not a murderer, Reina” (p. 271). What are Carlito’s thoughts about his heinous crime? Why does he decide to commit suicide? Why does he wait seven years?

17. Evaluate the ending of the novel. Were you satisfied with what happened to the characters and how their stories ended? If you could write the ending, what might you have done differently?

18. Nesto tells Reina “Nothing is ever as one remembers it. That’s the point of memory. So you can keep the pictures of your life you want to keep and forget what you need to forget” (p. 282). How true do you think this is? Think about a memory you share with someone, then write down what you remember and ask that person to do the same. Compare what you wrote, how much of what you both remember matches? How much is different?

Suggestions for Further Reading

The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz
The Dew Breaker by Edwidge Danticat
The Mothers by Brit Bennett
What Lies Between Us by Nayomi Munaweera
Hold Still by Lynn Steger Strong
Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue
Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Y. Dennis-Benn
Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien
The Long Night of White Chickens by Francisco Goldman