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Vida

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  • New York Times Notable Book of the Year
  • Premio Biblioteca de Narrativa Colombiana Winner
  • PEN/Hemingway Fiction Award Finalist
  • New York Public Library Young Lions Fiction Award Finalist
  • Independent Publisher Book Award Winner
  • Florida Book Award Winner
  • International Latino Book Award Winner
  • Paterson Book Award Finalist
  • New York Times Editors' Choice
  • Named a Best Book of the Year by NPR, Barnes & Noble, Latina, and Los Angeles Weekly
  • Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection

Praise

“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. 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. Ms. Engel proves as adept at depicting the staid, highly class-conscious world of Sabina’s relatives in Bogotá, as she is at capturing the artsy downtown world of New York, and the Miami club scene. She also delineates Sabina’s efforts to articulate an identity of her own — through her relationships with her family and the men she dates — with unsparing psychological precision.”
Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

Vida’s nine dazzling stories seduce the senses and bind the heart, casting a charged light on second generation Latina experience and redefining American coming-of-age in Sabina’s unforgettable voice. Patricia Engel is a master stylist whose relentless dance through language and flawless, controlled rhythms never abandon story itself. She is an original, and Vida marks an astonishing debut.”
PEN/Hemingway Fiction Award Citation

“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 Dίaz, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

“Understated . . . Arresting . . . A tingle of recognition builds as detail after detail sings with the veracity of real life . . . It’s the true-to-life version of the The Virgin Suicides, as vivid and revealing, in its way, as Jeffrey Eugenides’s novel . . . Sabina discovers the sweet attraction of invisibility: it suggests the possibility of being loved beyond considerations of sex or nationality or class or circumstance. And although Sabina must navigate around cowards, infidelity and indifference, Engel indelibly renders her ability to defeat disappointment with hope.”
–  New York Times Book Review

“[An] arresting and vibrant new voice .  .  . Unforgettable.”
– Elissa Schappell, Vanity Fair

“Engel’s impressive sensitivity to nuances is what animates Vida. The titular story is a near-perfect piece of fiction. [Vida] is the literary equivalent of interacting with someone who maintains unceasing eye contact—compelling, impressive and a little unnerving. It’s hard to conceive of a reader who wouldn’t find pleasure in Engel’s humour and intelligence.”
The Economist

“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 those beautiful pieces.
– John Freeman, NPR (Best Book Debuts of 2010)

“What immediately strikes you is the voice. Patricia Engel’s first novel, comprising a series of stories delineating the aimless life of a young Colombian American, is unsentimental and pointed in a way more familiar to crime writing than literary fiction. Sabina Rios, the protagonist, makes unsparing observations about a threatening world. Vida, glints with a detached coolness. But [Sabina] does have the integrity to attain [transcendence]. It’s what makes a lasting impression about Sabina—and about Patricia Engel’s talent.”
– Oscar Villalon, The Daily Beast (Best New Writers Series)

“An auspicious and mesmerizing literary debut.”
The Miami Herald

“A terrific book . . . Engel makes an impressive debut. She’s especially adept at dialogue and control of Sabina’s voice at various ages, and she has a gift for startling images — and for knowing not to overdo them. Vida is rich with life.”
St. Petersburg Times

“Thanks to Engel’s unsentimental approach toward Sabina, her chiseled prose (precise and unforgiving as a boxer’s jab) and her tender knowledge that yearning for meaning sometimes breathes under the thickest hides, Vida becomes more than a front seat to Sabina’s dark metamorphosis. But Engel won’t allow hope to come easy, nor should she. Sabina drifts from New Jersey to Colombia and New York City to Florida, cognizant that the big moments (love and death) don’t feel momentous, while the smaller ones — a conversation at a diner, a forlorn meeting a gazebo — sandblast our hearts.”
NPR

“[Patricia Engel] mines life events in emotionally blunt simplicity that’s disarmingly poetic . . . What Engel captures so acutely is the vast cultural inner-life of second-generation Americans. “Colombian-American” isn’t merely a convenient ethnic marker but a modest glimpse of the scope of Sabina’s experience, one that isn’t part Colombian and part American but the continuum that bridges two countries and cultures . . . [Written with] lovely, heartbreaking subtlety.”
Baltimore City Paper

“Patricia Engel is the next big thing in American fiction. She writes with powerful honesty and startling realism, inhabiting a world where the happy ending we are so accustomed to no longer exists. Vida is a powerful, utterly perfect debut that defies cliché and redefines social norms, twisting the reader through a series of unforgettable images. Especially pertinent in this political climate, Vida, I deeply believe, will stand the test of time.”
The Inkslinger

“Engel has managed a complex portrayal of both wanting to believe in love while remaining darkly mocking of it. Pitch-perfect . . .  Leveled with charm and muted nostalgia, Sabina’s frank, swindling countenance is, after all, powerfully disarming.”
Bookslut

“Every story here is a gem, bursting with life and hard-won wisdom.”
Flavorwire “50 Essential Books about the Female Experience"

“Engel is unsparing, but flecks her stories with humor. The result is a collection that is vivid, memorable and an exceptionally promising debut.”
–  Clevleland Plain Dealer

“In Vida, Engel has constructed a rich and multilayered narrative that is more than the sum of its parts. The effect is a short story collection that reads like a different kind of novel, one that unfolds in glimpses and fragments, and through this very inconstancy accomplishes a truer and more vivid representation of human experience.”
Seattle Real Change News

“The cheers that have heralded Patricia Engel’s arrival are merited . . . Lean and tight . . . Engel maintains an energetic voice and a cohesive structure. Her no-nonsense, minimalist style glints like the top of a Hemingwayesque iceberg.”
The Miami Herald

“Fantastic . . . Engel keeps us engaged in the life of this daughter of Colombian immigrants and rooting for her all the way.”
Latina Magazine (Best Book of 2010)

“An impressive debut . . .”
New York Daily News (Latinos Who Shaped 2010)

“Besides being a New York Times Notable Book and a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Fiction Award, Vida — the stunning debut by Colombian-American Patricia Engel — has become the female counterpoint to Junot Díaz’s classic, Drown. 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.”
L.A. Weekly (Top Book of 2011)

“By the time you’ve read a few of these stories, you’ll think you know the narrator. Sabina’s voice — frightened, angry, amused, dry, detached, compassionate, warm and always frank — is the thread that ties this earthy, poignant collection together.”
The New Jersey Star-Ledger

“Direct and unsentimental . . .  [Vida] doesn’t disappoint.”
Now Magazine (Toronto)

“Worth picking up, if only to witness the pitch perfect delivery of a girl on the cusp of adulthood.”
Flavorwire

“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. These are real, three-dimensional characters and their stories are deeply moving. ”
Shelf Awareness

“Engel navigates issues of class, ethnicity, and identity with finesse in her debut collection, linked stories about Sabina, a child of Colombian immigrants . . . 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.”
Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)

“Engel’s portraits – especially of her main character – are edgy, perceptive, and razor sharp.”
Kirkus Reviews

“[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 .  .  .  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

“Difficile de ne pas succomber au regard extralucide de Patricia Engel, à sa façon bien à elle de doser le détail et l’ellipse, la dérision et la mélancolie, et d’écrire avec l’autorité d’une routarde. Comme si elle était déjà revenue de tout, dès le berceau.”
Elle MagazineFrance

“La vie, l’amour, les emmerdes d’une Américaine d’origine colombienne. Un premier roman ultra réussi. Avec une distance ironique hors du commun, un ton et un style tendre et trash,l’auteur raconte sa vie et son parcours amoureux. Un premier roman qui évite tout apitoiement, nous enchante et nous happe d’emblée.”
Biba Magazine, France

“The sad beauty of life shines through in this strong debut.”
Florida Book Review

“Patricia 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 and The Virgin of Flames 

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 

“There’s no baloney in Patricia 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 Say Her Name and The Divine Husband

“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 Pym and Drop  

“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 

“Dazzling and profound, Vida pulses with all the exuberance implied in its spirited title. Patricia Engel brilliantly exposes the unsettled hearts of characters who struggle to disentangle themselves from loneliness, cultural disorientation, and the long shadows of violence that follow them across geographic and emotional borders.”
Sandra Rodriguez Barron, author of The Heiress of Water


Synopsis

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 family—already “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 it—until 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 (New Jersey, New York, Miami, Bogotá) and interior in this stunning debut, and the constant throughout is Sabina—serious, 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.

Reading Group Guide