The Book of Emma Reyes by Emma Reyes

This astonishing memoir was hailed as an instant classic when first published in Colombia in 2012, nearly a decade after the death of its author, who was encouraged in her writing by Gabriel García Márquez. Comprised of letters written over the course of thirty years, and translated and introduced by acclaimed writer Daniel Alarcón, it describes in vivid, painterly detail the remarkable courage and limitless imagination of a young girl growing up with nothing..

Emma Reyes was an illegitimate child, raised in a windowless room in Bogotá 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 establishing a career as an artist and befriending the likes of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera as well as European artists and intellectuals. The portrait of her childhood 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. Born in Bogotá, she also lived in Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Jerusalem, Washington, and Rome before settling in Paris. She 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, among them Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Pier Paolo Pasolini. The year she passed away, the French government named her a Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters.

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