Vida, Nina 1933-

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Vida, Nina 1933-

PERSONAL:

Surname is pronounced "Vee-da"; born May 2, 1933, in Los Angeles, CA; daughter of Lester Alan (an accountant) and Edith (a homemaker) Levin; married Marvin Vida (an attorney and judge), August 24, 1952; children: Scott Jay, Tracy Diane Vida Hensley. Education: Orange Coast College, A.A., 1975; California State University, Dominguez Hills, B.A., (summa cum laude), 1978. Religion: Jewish. Hobbies and other interests: Travel to settings of her novels.

ADDRESSES:

Home and office—Huntington Beach, CA. Agent—Meredith Bernstein, 33 Riverside Dr., New York, NY 10023. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER:

Writer and novelist. Rendel B. Hutchings (court reporters), Los Angeles, CA, note reader, 1960-83; writer, 1983—.

MEMBER:

International Toastmistress (first vice-president, 1985).

WRITINGS:

NOVELS

Scam: A Novel of Love and Greed, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1984.

Return from Darkness, Warner Books (New York, NY), 1986.

Goodbye, Saigon, Crown (New York, NY), 1994.

Between Sisters, Crown (New York, NY), 1996.

The End of Marriage, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2002.

The Texicans, Soho Press (New York, NY), 2006.

SIDELIGHTS:

Nina Vida writes of women who have endured harrowing experiences—Nazi concentration camps, the Vietnam War, sexual abuse—and come out with their strength and spirits intact. Some critics have noted that these women are not stereotypical, self-pitying victims, but survivors. Further, Vida has been praised for placing her protagonists in richly depicted contexts, complete with interesting subplots and well-realized secondary characters. Indeed, Vida's novels are often considered too complex to be confined to the label "victim novel," and usually incorporate major elements of the family saga, romance, and later, the detective novel genres. In assessing Between Sisters for the New York Times Book Review, for example, Rose Kernochan called the work "a new kind of victim novel: a story at once sympathetic and tough-minded."

"Tough-minded" might also describe Vida's heroines, who exhibit tenacity and determination even in dire circumstances. Helene Gelson, the main character of Return From Darkness, Vida's first novel to be widely reviewed, is a German Jew who is thwarted in an attempt to escape from Europe and the Nazis just before World War II. Her husband then commits suicide and kills the couple's young daughter; then Helene has to give up her son to keep him away from the Nazis. Eventually, she is sent to a concentration camp, where she becomes the friend and protector of a young Gypsy girl. Years later, Helene is reunited with her son, who helps her track down Nazi war criminals. Some critics found the novel a bit cliched, but a Publishers Weekly reviewer lauded Vida's "understated but detailed prose," asserting that she "captures the courage of those who survived the Holocaust."

Anh Truong, the protagonist of Goodbye, Saigon, like Helene in Return from Darkness, has been through harrowing wartime experiences. During the Vietnam War, Anh survives the death of her brother, forced prostitution, and the loss of her child. These events are seen in flashback, juxtaposed with Anh's present life in the "Little Saigon" section of a Los Angeles suburb, where she scrambles to make a living as a shoe shiner and take care of her family. She encounters such obstacles as bigotry and gang violence, but finds a friend and ally in Jana Galvin, the secretary of a cocaine-addicted lawyer, and a potential lover in Sam Knowlton, a troubled Vietnam veteran.

"Anh seems a quintessential American heroine, plucky and ambitious, an outlandish mixture of Sister Carrie, Jay Gatsby, and Auntie Mame, and as memorable a character as any of them," remarked Robert Nathan in the New York Times Book Review. "Hustler, scrapper, streetwise bender of the rules, she keeps her eye well fixed on the main chance, on the American Dream." Nathan found Anh, Jana, and Anh's family well drawn, adding that the novel includes "a superb range of minor characters, terrific set pieces … [and] moments of glorious high comedy and dialogue filled with wit and wonder." Los Angeles Times Book Review contributor Jo-Ann Mapson praised the characterizations of Anh and Jana, and asserted that "while the men are rendered a little less crisply, and certainly emerge less sympathetic, they still manage to redeem themselves by the novel's close." Mapson also applauded Vida's "tensile plot" and her convincing depiction of Vietnamese immigrant culture. A different view comes from a Publishers Weekly critic, who contended that the story and characters lack depth, "though the narrative is largely redeemed by a breakneck pace and snappy dialogue." To Nathan, however, the novel is valuable, especially because it explores the long-term consequences of war; he concluded "that its author is not Vietnamese makes Goodbye, Saigon even more remarkable. Not a word rings false. …As the Vietnam War recedes ever more quickly into the past, this is a book to be treasured, to be read and reread again, both for its immediate pleasures and for helping us remember where we've been."

Between Sisters, Vida's next novel, focuses on Lela Benoit, a woman who has suppressed horrifying memories of her girlhood. These memories include her father's repeated molestation of her sister, his murder of her mother, and his rape of Lela. Adopted by a supportive family, Lela blocks out any recollection of her early life. As an adult, she leads a reasonably happy and successful life in California, selling real estate and dabbling in art. She is forced to deal with her past, though, when a man named Ross MacGowan leads her to become involved in the lives of her sister, Jolene—now a drug addict—and Jolene's daughter, Sandy. Ross, it turns out, is Sandy's father.

Kernochan, in her piece for the New York Times Book Review, deemed Vida's characters and dialogue believable, her plot less so. "The result is a novel that is riveting but at the same time utterly exasperating," Kernochan commented. "If the first law of fiction is the law of credibility, then Ms. Vida is a compulsive rule breaker, a hopeless recidivist." A Publishers Weekly reviewer voiced a similar complaint, along with compliments: "Though the plot is a bit high-strung and sometimes less than credible, Vida holds it together with solid dialogue and an ending that offers realistic hope for the two scarred sisters." For her part, Yvonne Crittenden, writing for the online magazine Jam!, noted that despite the ubiquity of child abuse in contemporary literature, "the characters in this story are so vivid and the writing so graceful, it's an engrossing read."

In The End of Marriage, the story centers on the repercussions when a victim fights back. The story opens with a phone call from Alice Miller to her sister, Ellie Holmgren, in which Alice confesses to murdering her abusive husband, Morty. When Ellie arrives at Alice's home, she agrees to support Alice's story of her husband's suicide to the police, and everyone is satisfied except Vietnam-veteran police detective Teo Domingos. Teo's insistence that there has been a murder gets him suspended from the force, and he begins trailing the two sisters, determined to gather enough evidence to prove his theory but falling in love with Ellie instead. Difficult family ties are at issue in this novel, critics agreed, especially Teo's complicated Mexican-American family relations, including an ex-wife who wants him back, but Alice shares a number of family secrets before the novel's end as well. Critics disagreed on the effectiveness with which Vida draws these main characters; Library Journal reviewer Christine Perkins called Ellie and Teo "difficult characters to like, [but] Vida makes them sympathetic and believable." According to a contributor to Publishers Weekly, the character of Teo is more clearly delineated than that of the sisters; his police work "is described without cliche (no small achievement) and his complicated domestic life is portrayed without sentimentality," the critic argued. Others reviewed the book as a hybrid of the detective novel, with the mystery being whether Alice really did kill her husband. "The End of Marriage is a serio-comic dark romance and unusual kind of mystery all wrapped up in one delicious novel," concluded Harriet Klausner on BookBrowser.

The Texicans follows the trials of a rugged group of settlers and pioneers as they work to establish themselves in mid-nineteenth century Texas. Joseph Kimmel, a former mountain man, fur trapper, and schoolteacher, sets out for Texas to reclaim his dead brother's belongings. When he stops to help a runaway slave named Luck, he is attacked, his horse is stolen, and he is left for dead. An encounter with a wagon train full of settlers, led by Henry Castro, takes Kimmel to a new settlement, Castroville. Elsewhere, Aurelia Ruiz, daughter of a Mexican man and a white American woman, works as a healer and helps cure a cholera epidemic. When the outbreak is over, she is sold off by her father to a Texas Ranger, who abuses her. Soon, the Ranger is killed fighting Comanches, and she looks for refuge in the Native Americans' camp. As Kimmel's adventure progresses, he marries one of Castro's followers, a young woman named Katrin, in order to keep Comanche chief Ten Elk from claiming her. Later, he intervenes to save Luck, the man who once betrayed him, from a hanging by vengeful Texas Rangers. Kimmel, Katrin, and Luck set out to establish a homestead, but when Kimmel meets the lovely Aurelia, his world is shaken in ways he did not expect. A Kirkus Reviews critic noted that the novel is "Rich with period detail" and "an elegant, character-driven novel about the clash of cultures that forged the Lone Star spirit." Vida "successfully enables readers to see events from the viewpoint of the many well-drawn characters," remarked Sandy Freund, writing in School Library Journal. A Publishers Weekly reviewer named the novel a "radiant work of historical fiction," while Entertainment Weekly reviewer Tina Jordan called it a "completely engaging tale following a handful of remarkable settlers."

"I feel great sympathy for and forgiveness of my characters' frailties," Vida once told CA. "I am particularly interested in the strong woman heroine, who may not even know that she is strong until she is faced with adversity or is forced to examine her life in light of changed circumstances." Vida believes in challenging herself as a writer: "I think the novelist should be daring, should step outside home turf, get politically and socially and historically aware, play characters off against larger themes…. It's a delicate balancing art in fiction to avoid melodrama while enlarging the action arena, but when the balance is struck, the result can be an exhilarating piece of fiction."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Booklist, March 1, 1996, review of Between Sisters, p. 1123; February 15, 2002, Carrie Bissey, review of The End of Marriage, p. 996.

Entertainment Weekly, March 29, 1996, review of Between Sisters, p. 59; September 29, 2006, Tina Jordan, "Range Rovers," review of The Texicans, p. 86.

Kirkus Reviews, March 15, 1986, review of Return From Darkness, p. 425; June 15, 1994, review of Goodbye, Saigon, p. 803; December 15, 1995, review of Between Sisters, p. 1728; February 15, 2002, review of The End of Marriage, p. 218; August 1, 2006, review of The Texicans, p. 751.

Library Journal, June 1, 1986, review of Return From Darkness, p. 142; August, 1994, review of Goodbye, Saigon, p. 135; December, 1995, review of Between Sisters, p. 160; March 15, 2002, Christine Perkins, review of The End of Marriage, p. 110; August 1, 2006, Keddy Ann Outlaw, review of The Texicans, p. 74.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, December 25, 1994, Jo-Ann Mapson, review of Goodbye, Saigon, p. 3.

New York Times Book Review, October 23, 1994, Robert Nathan, review of Goodbye, Saigon, p. 38; May 12, 1996, Rose Kernochan, review of Between Sisters, p. 24.

Publishers Weekly, April 4, 1986, review of Return From Darkness, pp. 48-49; August 1, 1994, review of Goodbye, Saigon, p. 71; January 8, 1996, review of Between Sisters, p. 56; April 22, 2002, review of The End of Marriage, p. 50; June 26, 2006, review of The Texicans, p. 26.

School Library Journal, November, 2006, Sandy Freund, review of The Texicans, p. 172.

ONLINE

Jam!,http://jam.canoe.ca/ (April 28, 1996), Yvonne Crittenden, review of Between Sisters.

Nina Vida Home Page,http://www.ninavida.com (May 16, 2007).

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