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.
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. The very fact that this book exists is extraordinary. Everything about it . . . is astonishing -- DANIEL ALARCON, from the Introduction Reading the letters collected in this striking memoir, it is hard not to keep returning to the fact that their author was completely illiterate until her late teens...So eloquently does Reyes depict herself as a flawed witness to her own life that what emerges, paradoxically, is the portrait of a brilliantly assured observer and writer. It is Reyes's natural talent, even more than her story, that makes The Book of Emma Reyes remarkable * TLS * An incredible biography by any measure, but the book's most startling element is Reyes's clear-sighted, unsentimental remembrance of her difficult childhood * PARIS REVIEW * The memoir, in letters, of the Colombian artist Emma Reyes, takes you from her birth in a Bogota slum to the artistic circles of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. It's totally transporting -- Sam Baker * THE POOL * A mesmerising account full of the most striking details. Reading her words pitches the reader head first into a wondrous, terrifying world -- Eithne Farry * SUNDAY EXPRESS * Startling and astringently poetic . . . It's not hard to see what Marquez admired in [Reyes'] writing . . . she has a similar gift for relating extraordinary moments with a straight face, making them seem even more otherworldly. The most sophisticated aspect of this book is just how meticulously Reyes maintains the perspective of a child throughout . . . moving . . . potent and, against all odds, even lovely * THE NEW YORK TIMES * As poetic as it is horrific. The young Emma injects magic into the realism and vice versa - not for nothing is Reyes a compatriot of Marquez . . . an act of freedom both intimate and epic -- Ed Vuilliamy * OBSERVER * A jewel of a book. Emma is a mesmerising storyteller and her letters had me completely gripped from beginning to end -- NINA STIBBE What an astonishing book - I read it in a single gulp. Emma Reyes had a childhood of staggering deprivation but her humour and resilience shine through, and suddenly we have a modern classic -- DEBORAH MOGGACH Unadulteratedly good, interesting and important. Emma's letters remind me what reading and writing are for -- LOUISA YOUNG The moment I finished this memoir I read it again - one simply can't abandon Emma. And I've been speculating ever since about how she made it once she'd escaped her terrible childhood. One is deeply grateful to know as a fact - an almost inconceivable fact - that she triumphed, but longs to know how. No other book I've ever read has left me so deeply involved with its author, and so grateful for that involvement -- DIANA ATHILL