The Book of Emma Reyes: A Memoir in Correspondence by Emma Reyes

Review published on June 11, 2017.

This is an extraordinary story, told through letters, of the early life in Columbia of Emma Reyes, who later became an artist. Her first memories are of terrible poverty, hunger and cold, living in a windowless room with her sister and a cruel, uncaring mother. At about six or seven she is abandoned by her mother and taken to a convent where for many years she works all hours, cleaning, doing laundry and sewing with little food and no schooling.

The descriptions of this cruel life are vivid and detailed. You wonder how anyone could survive yet her letters show courage, imagination, humour, resilience and the ability to get some enjoyment from life even in the harshest of conditions. There is no self pity, even though the letters were written many years later.

The last letter tells of her escape from the convent when she was nineteen. It is heartening to read in the introduction about her later life and about how these letters came to be written and then made into a book. That is an amazing story in itself but pales beside the moving and eloquent memoir in these remarkable letters.

Berwyn Peet 4/3

The Book of Emma Reyes: A Memoir in Correspondence by Emma Reyes
W&N 9781474606592 hbk Aug 2017


The War is in the Mountains by Judith Matloff


Notes from No Man’s Land by Eula Biss

You may also like