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Vida Paperback – September 7, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
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A New York Times Notable Book of the Year and Editors' Choice
A NPR Best Debut of the Year
Finalist for The New York Public Library Young Lions Fiction Award, PEN/Hemingway Foundation Award, and Paterson Fiction Prize
Long listed for The Story Prize
A Latina Magazine Best Book of the Year
A LA Weekly Top Book of the Year
Winner of the Florida Book Awards Silver Medal for General Fiction
A Los Angeles Times Holiday Gift Guide Selection
"The stories in Patricia Engel’s striking debut collection are like snapshots from someone’s photo album: glimpses of relatives, friends, lovers and acquaintances, sometimes posing, sometimes caught by the camera unawares. . . . [Engel] delineates Sabina’s efforts to articulate an identity of her own with unsparing psychological precision. . . . What makes Sabina’s coming-of-age story so compelling is the arresting voice Ms. Engel has fashioned for her: a voice that’s immediate, unsentimental and disarmingly direct."Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
Gloriously gifted and alarmingly intelligent, Patricia Engel writes with an almost fable-like intensity, whether she is describing suburban New Jersey or urban Colombia or some other lost place. . . . Her ability to pierce the hearts of her crazy-ass characters, to fracture a moment into its elementary particles of yearning, cruelty, love, and confusion will leave you breathless. Here, friends, is the debut I have been waiting for.”Junot Díaz
"[An] arresting and vibrant new voice . . . Unforgettable.”Vanity Fair
Arresting . . . Vivid and revealing . . . A tingle of recognition builds as detail after detail sings with the veracity of real life.”The New York Times Book Review
Impressive . . . Unsentimental . . . [With] chiseled prose (precise and unforgiving as a boxer's jab) and [a] tender knowledge that yearning for meaning sometimes breathes under the thickest hides.”NPR.org
Engel has an eye for the details of youth . . . [Her] impressive sensitivity to such nuances is what animates Vida . . . the literary equivalent of interacting with someone who maintains unceasing eye contactcompelling, impressive and a little unnerving. But the book is funny, too, in that same direct way. . . . It’s hard to conceive of a reader who wouldn’t find pleasure in Ms. Engel’s humor and intelligence.”The Economist (online)
[A] mesmerizing debut.”Miami Herald
Vida calls to mind some of the best fiction from recent years. Like Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge, Engel uses stories about connected characters to illuminate her main subject, in this case Sabina, who moves with her family from Bogotá, Colombia, to New Jersey. Engel brings Sabina’s family and culture to life with a narrative style reminiscent of Junot Díaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. . . . [A] vivid, memorable, and an exceptionally promising debut.”The Plain Dealer (Cleveland)
You won’t forget Sabina, the troubled, mouthy young Colombian-American woman at the heart of Patricia Engel’s debut collection. . . . Vida feels like shards of memory. As if all that is left when things blow upas they always do for Sabinaare these beautiful pieces.”John Freeman, NPR.org (Best Book Debuts of 2010”)
[Vida] packs an emotional wallop that will leave you spinning. . . . Engel’s precision as a writer and her unsparing gaze brings Sabina startlingly to life. In fact, Sabina’s voice is so vivid and familiar, readers might find themselves wondering if they went to school with this fictional character or maybe worked in the same office after college. . . . Many have written about immigrants coming to the United States, but the manner in which Engel explores the shifting identity of a first-generation Latina may forge a new pathway in immigration literature.”BookPage.com
"Every story glistens as it follows Sabina through Miami, Colombia, New Jersey, and New York City on her way to understanding and enlightenment in a violent, ugly, and stunning portrait of an American experience."LA Weekly (Top Books of the Year)
A striking debut . . . Engel explores timely questions of community versus personal identity, offers striking observations on the restrictions of class and race, and does it all in a voice that is free of artifice and effort. . . . Rendered with precision and absolute honesty, these stories are quiet and deep, a function of Engel’s clear, direct prose, which is devoid of frills and accouterments.”Shelf Awareness
Intense . . . [A] great debut . . . For me, reading Patricia Engel’s Vida was a little like looking at a Lichtenstein. It reminded me of standing in the gallery of a breathless museum, atop creaky hardwood floors, observing forceful dots of color making a starkly beautiful paintingall the while I registered that sentimental love was something sweet, but inescapably counterfeit. . . . Engel has managed a complex portrayal of both wanting to believe in love while remaining darkly mocking of it. . . . Leveled with charm and muted nostalgia, Sabina’s frank, swindling countenance is powerfully disarming.”Bookslut
A narrative exploration of how far a person can run before accepting that she can’t get away from herself . . . Engel has constructed such a solid and sympathetic central character. Fiction tends to like its women breakable, but Sabina doesn’t break, and the narrative voice doesn’t flinch.”NPR.org (The Year’s Best Outsider Fiction”)
There’s no baloney in Engel’s stories, no falseness or posturing. Young women fall in love, and lose their way, as they actually do in life, in every heartbreaking register. The remarkable portrait of immigrant life is not a literary’ portrait or a multicultural cliché, it is unsentimental, unsparing, and true. Vida is a unique and unforgettable book.”Francisco Goldman, author of The Divine Husband
Edgy, perceptive, and razor sharp.”Kirkus Reviews
Engel writes with a passion, yearning and care, crafting narratives and characters that are so real, you know them, have always known them. Pitch perfect, at once restrained and lush, intelligent, funny and dripping with melancholy, Vida marks the debut of a truly original voice.”Chris Abani, author of GraceLand
Vida is emotional and elegant, a look at life through the wise eyes and fine prose of a remarkably talented writer.”Uzodinma Iweala, author of Beasts of No Nation
Terrific debut . . . Vida is rich with life. Sabina's story is one of millions of threads of the immigrant experience, but it is universal as well: We all search for our place in the world, for the one who can make us visible.”St. Petersburg Times
Direct and unsentimental . . . [Vida] doesn’t disappoint.”NOW (Toronto)
Engel navigates issues of class, ethnicity, and identity with finesse . . . [Her] prose is refreshingly devoid of pomp and puts a hard focus on the stiff compromises Sabina and her family have had to accept; there’s a striking perspective to these stories.”Publishers Weekly
Between the pop culture and politics of our time, we have become accustomed to language that does not clarify, but clouds. This is why Patricia Engel’s work, with its taut focus, its pained illumination, is so important. In Vida, as much as we come to know her narrator, Sabina, we come to know more fully the inside of our own hearts.”Asha Bandele, author of The Prisoner’s Wife
Patricia Engel’s Vida is that rare thing: a beautifully crafted book that truly has a story to tell. Brutal in its emotional honesty, graceful in its delivery, Vida signals the arrival of a new literary star.”Mat Johnson, author of Drop and Hunting in Harlem
What Engel captures so acutely is the vast cultural inner-life of second-generation Americans . . . . [Written with] lovely, heartbreaking subtlety.”Baltimore City Paper
[Written with] impressive sensitivity . . . it’s hard to conceive of a reader who wouldn’t find pleasure in Engel’s humor and intelligence.”More Intelligent Life (The Economist blog)
More About the Author
Patricia's fiction has appeared in The Atlantic, A Public Space, Boston Review, Guernica, and Harvard Review, among other publications, and received awards including the Boston Review Fiction Prize, fellowships from the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, Key West Literary Seminar, Norman Mailer Writer's Colony, Hedgebrook, Ucross, and the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs, as well as a 2014 fellowship in Literature from the National Endowment of the Arts.
Top Customer Reviews
Someone in my class said it was "depressing". I call it human. I call it the voice of a generation that's lost and at the mercy of (as my professor so brilliantly called it) the tyranny of intimacy. It's all anyone is looking for anymore. Forget self-awareness or individuality, everyone is looking for someone else they can rely on. That may be depressing, but that's life in 21st century America.
The book is also so strong because each story doesn't just a story about love, it tells a story about love while struggling with your cultural identity. It makes Sabina's search for love more desperate, because how can you love someone else when you don't know how to love yourself? It's haunting and cuts into the minority experience so deeply I found myself crying for no apparent reason throughout most of the book. I'm not even Latina, but her struggles with being Latina spoke to me as a black woman in a way I can't describe.
The writing is brilliant, moving and honest and brutal without losing any of its poetry. It speaks to a generation of lost souls with an honesty and reality that's been lost in the paranormal romance craze.
Though the worlds shown - the immigrant world in the U.S., the lives of characters born in the U.S. but belonging to several cultures, the world in Colombia, the worlds of young people in different cities - all seem to come from the mind of a young narrator (Sabina), they really feature the voices and experiences of the many. Even though many of the characters were latino or latin american or international or the generation of people born here to immigrant parents, and I am not, I found within my life a lot of ways to relate to their experiences and memories that matches up to those of some of their characters. And when I did not or could not relate, I enjoyed being along for the ride.
I can't say that the narrator is a character that I can sympathize with or even like, but admire and respect? Absolutely. She draws the reader into the different worlds and it's an interesting experience to follow her along. This book is worth it.
Why not five stars? Well, I am looking forward to more books from this author, and even if the first book deserves five stars, I am handing out a four! That's to provide encouragement and "ganas" - I hope that this author continues to write about these worlds of characters - immigrants, generations born in the U.S., international characters, Latino, non-Latino, and more. Great book, period. Even though I am putting down four stars, it's easily worth six.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This wasn't as engaging as I kept hoping and expecting it to be. It was very autobiographical and the author's narcissism was coming through in a way that made the main character... Read morePublished 9 months ago by Rebecca
Reviewed by: Sandra
Livin' la vida Latina
Review: Patricia Engel’s debut book was wonderful. Read more
A quick and enjoyable read. It felt like a complication of short stories. It Left me wanting for more stories.Published 15 months ago by MareBear13
Engel is blessed with the kind of brevity that catches your heart with a sentence and wrings it out in a page. I enjoyed every story in this collection.Published 17 months ago by Lucy Miller Robinson
For me, reading Vida was a wonderful experience, such a treat. The stories are beautifully written, obviously written by a gifted and sensitive author. Read morePublished 18 months ago by Rose from New Jersey
This year is the first time I've really given short stories a chance. While this isn't my favorite collection, the author, Patricia Engel, writes beautifully. Read morePublished 19 months ago by AaliyahA
Engel's prose is, simply put, magical. She's able to place her reader inside her characters, and she does so effortlessly. Read morePublished 23 months ago by Rochelle