A literary discovery: an extraordinary account, in the tradition of The House on Mango Street and Angela’s Ashes, of a Colombian woman’s harrowing childhood
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, and translated and introduced by acclaimed Peruvian-American writer Daniel Alarcón, it describes in vivid, painterly detail the remarkable courage and limitless imagination of a young girl growing up with nothing.
Emma 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 convent housing 150 orphan girls, where they washed pots, ironed and mended laundry, scrubbed floors, cleaned bathrooms, sewed garments and decorative cloths for church—and lived in fear of the Devil. Illiterate and knowing nothing of the outside world, Emma escaped at age nineteen, eventually coming to have a career as an artist and to befriend the likes of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera as well as European artists and intellectuals. Far from self-pitying, the portrait 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.
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