“Desaliento” is from Patricia Engel’s debut collection, VIDA (Grove/Atlantic 2010), which was a New York Times Notable Book in 2010 and a PEN/Hemingway Foundation Award finalist. Her stories have appeared in The Atlantic, A Public Space, Boston Review, Guernica, and Slice Magazin, among other publications. “Desaliento” won the Boston Review Fiction Prize judged by Junot Diaz. Her new novel, THE VEINS OF THE OCEAN, will be released May, 2016.
Engel said this about her story: I wrote “Desaliento” hoping to convey the essence of a specific cultural moment at the turn of the millennium when Argentina’s economy collapsed, causing a youth diaspora. Stateside, it was an equally strange period. In a few months the World Trade Center would be attacked and our sense of the world would be forever altered. Despite the permeating exuberance and materialistic oblivion, there was an unrelenting emptiness in the air. Sabina and Elsa’s sentimental exile is a response to that void, prompting Sabina’s escapism and Elsa’s reverse emigration to Russia. Sabina meets Diego, an Argentinean “backpacker turned refugee” in Miami, a crossroads of young travelers, throbbing with hope, loneliness, and heartbreak, and the two manage to form an unlikely bond despite their personal chaos.
The character of Diego was inspired by a close friend of mine who experienced a similar accidental immigration, named for the old French song, “Diego, libre dans sa tête,” and the son of one of my literary heroes, Romain Gary. Finally, through Sabina and Diego, I wanted to tell a story of emotional displacement, shifting migratory communities and landscapes, but most importantly, I wanted to tell a story of platonic love, and the ways that it can sometimes be the most transformative and profound.
Sophia Lear, writing in the New York Times, said of the book: Just because something happened to you doesn’t make it interesting. Anyone who has suffered through an overly indulgent blog post or cocktail- party anecdote is familiar with this thought, which also roughly captures the risk of first-person fiction. And that’s what makes “Vida,” Patricia Engel’s understated first collection of stories, so arresting: Engel never strays from the even-keeled perspective of Sabina, the daughter of Colombian immigrants, an unambitious young woman from New Jersey to whom nothing truly horrible or truly wonderful happens. But by the end of her book, Engel has, with apparent ease, entirely overcome her reader’s skepticism.
Roxane Gay, writing in the Nation, said of Engel: Engel has an eye for detail. She knows how to drown the reader in a sense of enchantment… She writes exquisite moments.