A memoir of a painter Emma Reyes' harrowing childhood in Bogotá, comprised of letters written over the course of 30 years and hailed as an instant classic when first published in Colombia in 2012, nearly a decade after the death of its author.
It's easy to see it as a found document, a work of accidental and miraculous genius ... Her writing is exceptional. Several times while reading, I gasped out loud at the beauty of her prose. It's some of the best writing I've read in years ... total fidelity to her childhood view of the world is what makes The Book of Emma Reyes seem deceptively unlike a memoir. As a narrator, Reyes never tells us what the arc of her story will be. She doesn't analyze, accuse, or defend. She just lets us watch her survive, and then grow. In the final letter, Emma steals the keys of the convent in which she's lived for years. The book ends as she creeps out the door, frightened but determined. 'I realized,' she says, 'it had been a long time since I was a girl.' There's the adult Emma Reyes, addressing the reader directly for the first and only time. It's the perfect ending. And it's a classic memoir ending, too. She might not be her artist self yet, but she's ready. She's all grown.
...[a] startling and astringently poetic epistolary memoir ... In addition to recording the experience of poverty and emotional abandonment, the book captures how a certain kind of religious education combined with neglect can deform young people ... As moving as this book can be, there is something inherently incomplete and unpolished about it. It is not a conventional memoir and doesn’t offer all the satisfactions of one. But the fragments here are potent and, against all odds, even lovely.
...described with such quirky grace and raw honesty, such a childlike eye for detail and disarming explanation of the inexplicable, that it is as poetic as it is horrific ... Aged 19, Emma connects with 'the world' beyond the locks by meeting the eye of a milkman through a hole he has made in the convent wall, wherein, characteristically, she beholds laughter. Now she must regain that world whence she came, and does so by stealing the key while its keeper prays – an act of freedom both intimate and epic, like the book itself.