The Book Of Emma Reyes: A Memoir

Hardcover | August 8, 2017

byEmma ReyesTranslated byDaniel AlarcónIntroduction byDaniel Alarcón

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A literary discovery: an extraordinary account, in the tradition of The House on Mango Street and Angela’s Ashes, of a Colombian woman’s harrowing childhood
This astonishing memoir was hailed as an instant classic when first published in Colombia in 2012, nearly a decade after the death of its author, who was encouraged in her writing by Gabriel García Márquez. Comprised of letters written over the course of thirty years, and translated and introduced by acclaimed writer Daniel Alarcón, it describes in vivid, painterly detail the remarkable courage and limitless imagination of a young girl growing up with nothing.
Emma Reyes was an illegitimate child, raised in a windowless room in Bogotá with no water or toilet and only ingenuity to keep her and her sister alive. Abandoned by their mother, she and her sister moved to a Catholic convent housing 150 orphan girls, where they washed pots, ironed and mended laundry, scrubbed floors, cleaned bathrooms, sewed garments and decorative cloths for the nuns—and lived in fear of the Devil. Illiterate and knowing nothing of the outside world, Emma escaped at age nineteen, eventually coming to have a career as an artist and to befriend the likes of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera as well as European artists and intellectuals. The portrait that emerges from this clear-eyed account inspires awe at the stunning early life of a gifted writer whose talent remained hidden for far too long.
For more than seventy years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1,800 titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines. Readers trust the series to provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors, as well as up-to-date translations by award-winning translators.

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A literary discovery: an extraordinary account, in the tradition of The House on Mango Street and Angela’s Ashes, of a Colombian woman’s harrowing childhood   This astonishing memoir was hailed as an instant classic when first published in Colombia in 2012, nearly a decade after the death of its author, who was encouraged in her writin...

Emma Reyes (1919–2003) was a Colombian painter and intellectual. Born in Bogotá, she also lived in Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Jerusalem, Washington, and Rome before settling in Paris. She dedicated most of her life to painting and drawing, slowly breaking through as an artist and forging friendships with some of the most distinguished E...

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Format:HardcoverDimensions:192 pages, 8 × 4.75 × 0.53 inPublished:August 8, 2017Publisher:Penguin Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0143108689

ISBN - 13:9780143108689

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Editorial Reviews

“Some works of art feel more unlikely, more miraculous than others, and Emma Reyes’s remarkable epistolary memoir is one of them. . . . I don’t think I’ve read many books of such power and grace, or that pack such an emotional wallop in so short a space. . . . There is no self-pity, only wonder, and that tone, so delicate and subtle, is perhaps the book’s greatest achievement. . . . The very fact that this book exists is extraordinary. Everything about it . . . is astonishing.” —Daniel Alarcón, from the Introduction“It’s not often we hear the voices of the voiceless, those deemed invisible, who survive on the trash heaps and margins of cultures. Emma Reyes is that voice—a storyteller with an eye for the details of a world devastating in its cruelty and indifference. Her voice is a triumph of hope and resilience and does what the best books do—expand our awareness and deepen our compassion. These are letters from the heart to the heart of those readers lucky enough to discover this gem of a book. Daniel Alarcón’s translation from the Spanish is effortless and seamless; one forgets it is a translation. It is that rare miracle that the Polish poet Wislawa Symborska spoke of, ‘when a translation stops being a translation and becomes . . . a second original.’ ” —Julia Alvarez, bestselling author of How the García Girls Lost Their Accents, In the Time of the Butterflies, and A Wedding in Haiti“The Book of Emma Reyes is a diamond in the rough. It serves up, with the tastiness of street-vendor meats off a hot grill, the story of two sisters who grew up in unforgiving circumstances. If you are vegetarian, don’t worry: The spices, like the author’s exquisite memory for detail, will fill your imagination. For a while afterward you’ll wonder how it is that some children survive their childhood, and you’ll surely be thankful for your own.” —Ana Castillo, author of So Far from God“A compelling work that seems to hover along the frontier between autobiography and fiction. It’s a truly heroic account (in the most colloquial language) of a child surviving the worst that the adult world insists on throwing at her. There’s not a drop of sentimentality in it—just the kind of courage born of the most desperate adversity.” —Edith Grossman, translator of Don Quixote and author of Why Translation Matters“The Book of Emma Reyes, in Daniel Alarcón’s adroit translation, is a must-read, a modest yet game-changing masterpiece in the memoir genre. An abandoned child who climbed out of poverty in extremis, raconteur-artist Emma Reyes miraculously broke through oppression and obscurity to captivate such devoted friends as Frida Kahlo, Sartre, and Pasolini. She is without a doubt the most original Colombian voice to come our way since the legendary Gabriel García Márquez, who was indeed among the first readers to admire her storytelling. Her epistolary memoir narrates with violent immediacy an unreal yet too real world; child and woman speak in fractured unison, with a style both visceral and effortless, hallucinatory and yet devastatingly lucid.” —Suzanne Jill Levine, author of The Subversive Scribe and Manuel Puig and the Spider Woman“Worthy of a Dickens novel . . . So true and sincere that it is believable in every sentence, even in the most incredible ones . . . A book of extraordinary literary value.” —Mariana Enriquez, author of Things We Lost in the Fire