Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Book of Emma Reyes

The Book of Emma Reyes, Emma Reyes, Daniel Alarcón

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 García Márquez. Comprised of letters written over the course of thirty years, it describes in vivid, painterly detail the remarkable courage and limitless imagination of a young girl growing up with nothing.

Despite relentless dispiriting conditions, Emma Reyes' letters abound with spirit and vitality.  I prepared myself to finish this memoir with a heavy heart, inevitably; I knew what I was going into.  The magic of Reyes writing is that access to her vigorous perception creates a sense of seeing things as they truly were -- and there was sadness aplenty -- but this experience of truly seeing is invigorating.  Reyes' retelling is captivating and intuitively well-woven.  I enjoyed reading, and read the memoir very quickly as a result.  In addition to infusing the unfortunate with a fascinating, honest power, there is a tone of baffled amusement; that Reyes marvelled at her conditions, in remembering them.  I felt as though I had been taken in confidence to marvel along with her, and even the least pleasant people from her past became larger than life, memorable fixtures in my imagination.  I'm so glad for this being translated, as this story deserves to be told on many shores. 

Advisory notes:
In terms of audience suitability, I would be comfortable reading this with a high school English class from around age 15;

  • There are references to conception having occurred out of wedlock, but no descriptions of sex.
  • A man in poor mental health exposes himself and micturates, without gratuitous detail.
  • There are a handful of curses relating to defecation.
  • Brief scene involving man-handling of a young girl's breasts.
It is a tale of triumph told from childhood memory, far removed from first-world experience; something worth YA and adults alike reading.

Due for release on Haki's birthday, tomorrow.  Review copy received from Hachette.
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