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The Book of Emma Reyes: A Memoir (A Penguin…

The Book of Emma Reyes: A Memoir (A Penguin Classics Hardcover) (edition 2017)

by Emma Reyes (Author), Daniel Alarcon (Translator)

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476349,850 (4.08)7
Title:The Book of Emma Reyes: A Memoir (A Penguin Classics Hardcover)
Authors:Emma Reyes (Author)
Other authors:Daniel Alarcon (Translator)
Info:Penguin Classics (2017), Edition: First Edition, 192 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:memoir, Colombia, art

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The Book of Emma Reyes by Emma Reyes



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English (5)  Spanish (1)  All languages (6)
Showing 5 of 5
An vividly recalled epistolary account of a miserable childhood and eventual escape. Reyes's tenacity is inspiring. ( )
  msmilton | Jul 18, 2018 |
An vividly recalled epistolary account of a miserable childhood and eventual escape. Reyes's tenacity is inspiring. ( )
  msmilton | Jul 18, 2018 |
This is quite an amazing story. I was very sorry that it ended just as she left the convent. This wonderful artist went on to have an extraordinary life. I would have liked to learn where she went from here and how she managed to rise above this troubling childhood. ( )
  njcur | Mar 19, 2018 |
I had not idea who Emma Reyes was when I saw this book. But the idea of a memoir written in the form of letters to a friend appealed to me so I decided to give it a try. I am still not sure who Emma Reyes is (this memoir finishes too early in her life) but the glimpse into Colombia of the 20s and 30s will stay with me for a long time.

I rarely read introductions before reading a book. Daniel Alarcón does a great job introducing the book though - setting the context and the backstory and explaining how this book came to be. And then you start reading the letters.

The story in the letters start when Emma is 3 (or thereabouts) and end when she is 19. But they are not written until the late 60s when the painter is in her 50s and her life had changed drastically. She writes the letters to a friend, trying to explain where she came from and recall a story that is both heartbreaking and unbelievable.

Considering how young Emma was when the story starts, you have to wonder how reliable her memories are. She addresses that more than once in the letters and explains how all the misery and suffering made her remember and she had her sister to assist with the memories. One have to wonder though. But even if we accept that we are dealing with an unreliable narrator, the story still works.

Emma grows up in a windowless room with an older sister, a woman that may be her mother (but is never explicitly stated) and a little boy. She is allowed out to play and she spends most of her time out in the trash, looking for things to play with. And then things change and they start traveling from one Colombian rural location to another - until the day when the two girls are abandoned and end up in a convent. And somewhere in the middle of all the beatings, hunger and suffering, there is Emma - unhappy, unloved and mostly invisible.

I am not sure how much of what she narrates is true and where the embellishments are. It seems like at least the base of the story is right and even if it veers in the fictional space, it is still worth reading.

However, it is not for people that expect a happy story. Columbia is presented as a hovel; most of the people we meet are either evil or more evil than good (some by design, some seem to had just decided that this is easier); everyone is broken and as a result tries to break everyone else. The story through the eyes of a child told by a woman at the middle of her life sounds almost magical - until you realize that there is nothing magical or fairy - it is just life. ( )
  AnnieMod | Jan 24, 2018 |
Totalmente recomendado, no solo por encontrar una vida muy bien contada, sino también para descubrir la magnitud de la discriminación social y económica en Colombia.
  lauramacabrera | Feb 6, 2013 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Reyes, Emmaprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Alarcón, DanielTranslation and Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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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 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, and translated and introduced by acclaimed Peruvian-American writer Daniel Alarcon, 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 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. 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"--Provided by publisher.… (more)

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