The Book of Emma Reyes
This astonishing memoir of a childhood lived in extreme poverty in Latin America was hailed as an instant classic when first published in Colombia in 2012, nine years after the death of its author, who was encouraged in her writing by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Comprised of letters written over the course of thirty years, it describes in vivid, painterly detail the remarkable courage and limitless imagination of a young girl growing up with nothing. Emma was an illegitimate child, raised in a windowless room in Bogota 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 convent housing 150 orphan girls, where they washed pots, ironed and mended laundry, scrubbed floors, cleaned bathrooms, and sewed garments and decorative cloths for church. 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. Far from self-pitying, 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.
Emma Reyes (1919-2003) was a Colombian painter and intellectual whose letters were first published in 2012. She grew up in extreme poverty and escaped a convent for orphan girls at age nineteen. Illiterate, she travelled wherever she could and dedicated most of her life to painting and drawing, slowly breaking through as an artist and forging friendships with some of the most distinguished European and Latin American artists, writers and intellectuals of the twentieth century. She lived in Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Jerusalem, Washington and Rome before settling in Paris. The year she passed away, the French government named her a Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters.