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Vida Paperback – September 7, 2010


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 182 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press, Black Cat; 1St Edition edition (September 7, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802170781
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802170781
  • Product Dimensions: 7.3 x 5 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,483,643 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Engel navigates issues of class, ethnicity, and identity with finesse in her debut collection, linked stories about Sabina, a child of Colombian immigrants who grows up in New Jersey before heading off to find work and love in Miami. "Diego was this guy that I met on Washington Avenue at three in the morning the summer I quit my job at the art gallery," the 23-year-old Sabina says in her typically understated voice in "Desaliento," a story about how dallying with the handsome Argentinean hustler seems glamorous and subversive. In "Lucho," Sabina, still in high school where her family is considered "spics, in a town of blancos," a neighbor boy with a rough past is the only one who pays attention to her. In the title story, Sabina, working in Miami, befriends an illegal Colombian immigrant who reveals a tale of being sold to a Miami brothel owner and later being "rescued" by the brothel's guard, now her boyfriend. Engel's 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.
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Review

—Winner of an Independent Publisher Book Awards Gold Medal for Literary Fiction
—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 contact—compelling, 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 up—as they always do for Sabina—are 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 painting—all 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 Engel is the author of Vida and It's Not Love, It's Just Paris. Her acclaimed debut, Vida, was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Fiction Award, New York Public Library Young Lions Fiction Award, and Paterson Fiction Award, winner of the International Latino Book Award, Florida Book Award, and Independent Publisher Book Award, and longlisted for The Story Prize and Dayton Literary Peace Prize. Additionally, Vida was a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection, a New York Times Editors' Choice, and named a Best Book of the Year by NPR, Barnes & Noble, Latina Magazine, and Los Angeles Weekly.

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.

Customer Reviews

Son's required book for college.
A. Papapdopulu
The stories flow effortlessly, like beautiful music moving the reader along a wonderful journey.
Rose from New Jersey
This is a great collection of stories very much worth taking the time to read.
Joseph Landes

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Shagreene on December 15, 2010
Format: Paperback
I had the opportunity to hear this writer read one of her stories at the New York Public Library and have followed her writing career closely ever since. Vida is her first book and I was blown away by how smart it is. The main character Sabine is so real, so smart and so aware. Each story is unique but Engel's writing style is so consistent that the book flows seamlessly. I was sad when each story ended but excited for each new one to begin. Dive into this book, you won't regret it.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By readlikebreathing on July 24, 2012
Format: Paperback
I finished this book in one day, not because I had to for class, but because I couldn't stop reading it. There is something so powerful about this girl. She's snarky, she's depressed, she's desperate, she's faithful, she's impressionable. She's every girl that's ever lived. She makes terrible choices and deals with them the way most people do- she makes the same choice again.

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.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Pia Padukone on July 1, 2011
Format: Paperback
This was a beautiful collection of short stories as told through the eyes of Sabina, an American-born Colombian girl who has a lot of boyfriends. At times, they seemed like love stories, but they were also stories of family, friends, strong ties and loyalties. The title story, Vida, made me cry unabashedly on the 6 train as I left work one evening. Patricia Engel is a new, fierce writer. I look forward to her next ventures.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Astros Fan on May 24, 2011
Format: Paperback
This is my first time to post a review on Amazon.com regarding a book. I read often but am usually not as impressed as I was by Engel's book. I was immediately taken by each short story by the end of its first page. She's a great writer and does a good job of addressing *real*-life issues and making you actually care about the characters. I only wish I could know more about the characters she wrote about in these stories. A great book!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Joseph Landes on April 10, 2011
Format: Paperback
Patricia Engel is by far one of the best authors of short stories that I have read in some time. It is no surprise that this collection, "Vida," was named one of the NY Times Notable Books of 2010. What I found super interesting about this collection relative to others I have read is that the stories actually follow one character, Vida, through various key times of her life. She is a teenager and is befriended by an older what you might call "townie." She is living in NY and attached to various boyfriends. She spends time throughout the stories with various drifters. The stories all feel incredibly honest and raw--almost too raw. Interestingly the stories take place in various major cities--New York and Miami included. But all seem to tie back in some way, shape, or form to Columbia. The most touching story had to be "Vida" where she finds out that her friend was forced to work in a brothel and how she was able to escape and come to the US. This is a great collection of stories very much worth taking the time to read.
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful By HijaDeCoyolxauhqui on December 14, 2010
Format: Paperback
I'm not sure if the title was chosen ironically, because we don't really see the main character LIVE. Sabina drinks too much, fixates on the men who don't want her and uses the ones who do to fill time, confesses self-consciousness about her identity as a Latina raised in the US and the way her crappy Spanish falls on the ears of the people who were actually raised in her homeland... and since my friends and I do all of these things in real life, I expected to find resonance in these stories.

Instead, "Vida" is a rather soulless collection of stories about people who can't connect with each other. This kind of psychological and spiritual disconnection of Latin@s in the US does hold a great deal of thematic potential, but since we don't care about any of the characters (except maybe Vida, the exploited beauty queen) there is no emotional consequence to the work. I often felt like I was reading about a tall, sexy, ennui-stricken Colombiana paperdoll being marched through cardboard tableaus- art deco Miami, post-9/11 NYC, Jersey suburbs, Bogota. All of these settings have such layered interesting energy, but the author didn't do much with them.

I wonder if part of the reason it has been so well received by reviewers is that the book fits in well with the trite narrative of the tragic immigrant Latin@ who never finds a place to belong. Junot Diaz, whose work also addresses the lives and experiences of diasporic Latin@s on the east coast, gave this book an excellent cover blurb (which is a large part of why I bought it.) But even though I dearly wanted to like "Vida" out of Brown-woman-writer loyalty, I found that the only things it had in common with Diaz's generally excellent work was bleakness and two-dimensional, unrealized female characters- with little of the humor, history or creativity I hoped for.
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