The New York Times
Vidaby Patricia Engel
Fresh, accomplished, and fearless, Vida marks the debut of Patricia Engel, a young author of immense talent and promise. Vida follows a single narrator, Sabina, as she navigates her shifting identity as a daughter of the Colombian diaspora and struggles to find her place within and beyond the net of her strong, protective, but embattled family.
In Lucho,” Sabina’s familyalready foreigners in a town of blancos”is shunned by the community when a relative commits an unspeakable act of violence, but she is in turn befriended by the town bad boy who has a secret of his own; in Desaliento,” Sabina surrounds herself with other young drifters who spend their time looking for love and then fleeing from ituntil reality catches up with one of them; and in Vida,” the urgency of Sabina’s self-imposed exile in Miami fades when she meets an enigmatic Colombian woman with a tragic past.
Patricia Engel maps landscapes both actual and interior in this stunning debut, and the constant throughout is Sabinaserious, witty, alternately cautious and reckless, open to transformation yet skeptical of its lasting power. Infused by a hard-won, edgy wisdom, Vida introduces a sensational new literary voice.
The New York Times
The New York Times Book 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 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)
A loosely concatenated narrative that features Sabina, a second-generation Colombian-American, as she grows up, has relationships and tries to make sense of her life and world.
Engel's work could be considered either a series of stories or an "approximate" novel. The first story introduces us to 14-year-old Sabina, whose uncle has recently killed his wife. While this act casts a shadow on Sabina's family of "foreigners, spics, in a town of blancos," she's more preoccupied with Lucho, a boyfriend (of sorts) two years older. Lucho is charismatic, an accomplished smoker—and a practiced bad boy. One of the first traumas of Sabina's life is having to deal with his death in an automobile accident. "Refuge," the following story, takes place around 9/11. Sabina, now 22, is a receptionist at an investment bank. While her life is saved because she called in sick that day rather than showed up at her office in Tower One, Engel is interested in the small gesture, not the arc of terrorism. Once again, the focus is on relationships, in this case musician Nico, her irresponsible boyfriend, and Lou, a guitar teacher whose jealous wife keeps a close eye on Sabina. By the end of the story Sabina has learned her relationship with Nico is as doomed as the Twin Towers, and when it ends it is "uneventful, the way most life-changing moments are. You don't see them happening." In the next story we learn of the death of anorexic Maureen, who'd gone to high school with Sabina and made her life unbearable. Here Sabina explores her own ambivalence toward this unlikable, pathetic and sad woman. The longest story (or chapter) is "Vida." In it we find Sabina still wrestling with unfaithful boyfriends, yet she's able to help a friend escape a failed relationship and "escape" back to Colombia.
Engel's portraits—especially of her main character—are edgy, perceptive and razor sharp.
- Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
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Meet the Author
Patricia Engel de origen colombiano y nacida en los Estados Unidos, es egresada de New York University en donde se licenció en francés e historia del arte, y de Florida International University donde obtuvo su maestría en narrativa. Actualmente reside en Miami. Su libro Vida fue finalista del Premio Pen/Hemingway y destacado como Notable Book por The New York Times. Es autora de las novelas No es amor, es solo París, que recibió el Premio Latino Internacional, y de Las venas del mar, su más reciente producción literaria. Sus obras han cosechado honores y grandes elogios de la crítica y han sido traducidas a varios idiomas. En 2017 ganó la tercera edición del Premio Biblioteca de Narrativa Colombiana (PBNC) por su libro de cuentos 'Vida'.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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From the moment I picked up the book I could not place it down. The metaphors and detailed setting descriptions provided throughout the stories allowed you to integrate with the story. I had the pleasure of meeting Patricia in person and she is a true visionary! Looking forward to seeing what she has up ahead because she can reach great heights in the literary world.
Reviewed by: Sandra Rating: 4 stars Review: Patricia Engel’s debut book was wonderful. Her main character, Sabina, was smart, witty, and real; she often referred to herself as a “late bloomer.” These are stories of a girl’s coming-of-age from childhood to adulthood (although not necessarily in that order) that trek through the hurdles revolving her family, friends, neighbors, and her ethnic identity. Living in a community shunned by “blancos” makes life a little lonely for Sabina in “Lucho.” In “Refuge,” Sabina must hide from the wreckage of the 9/11 aftermath while pondering the fact that she “cheated,” that she should’ve been in that building with all those victims if she had only gone to work that day. And, in “Vida,” Sabina befriends a prostitute that she can’t help but be fascinated by. Full of vivid and lively descriptions like “your skin looks like diarrhea.” (47) I couldn’t help but laugh at that one. “Death is a huge aphrodisiac.” (35) Interesting how you always want people when they’re dead –they are the “ungettable” get. Engel has a way of engaging the reader with her candid humor and elegant prose. Her unique writing style of broken sentences was so oddly poetic –yet it all seemed to work.
A unique writing style from a brilliant talent.
This is light reading (the paper used for printing is very interesting too). Not one of those book with long, never-ending descriptions of people and places. Something happens on every page and the book interests the reader from the beginning. Great for gifts, to carry in your purse (not heavy), for airport and airplane reading, or to read a chapter each night. Once you start, you can't stop. If has some drama but with good sense of humor in every page. The best character is Sabina's mother, a funny latin lady, which I can totally identify with other latin mothers I know!