The Book of Emma Reyes: A Memoir in Correspondence review – portrait of a painter’s harrowing adolescence

The Colombian artist’s raw, poetic letters to a friend illuminate the horror of her isolated childhood in a convent

As translator Daniel Alarcón says in his introduction, even the existence of Emma Reyes’s book is “miraculous”. She died in 2003, aged 84, in Bordeaux – an émigré from her native Colombia, little known as a painter (a singular style of densely decorative primitivism), not at all as a writer. She “rubbed shoulders with Alberto Moravia, Jean-Paul Sartre” and was “a kind of godmother to Latin American artists and writers” in France – but only two people knew she had written this book: Reyes’s friend Germán Arciniegas, a Colombian historian and journalist, and Gabriel García Márquez.

The book comprises 23 letters to Arciniegas that recall the harrowing onset of her life journey as child and pubescent. It’s described with such quirky grace and raw honesty, such a childlike eye for detail ...

Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann – review

A shocking episode of US history is recounted in this story of Native Americans murdered for their oil wealth Sometimes Cormac McCarthy writes a great American novel; every so often the Coen brothers make a great American film – and in the best traditions of American journalism, someone comes up with a story that cuts to a kernel of the national narrative; here is one of those. The timing of David Grann’s historical investigation into the systematic murder of Osage Native Americans in Oklahoma during the first quarter of the 20th century could not be more cogent. In the time it took to write his own signature, President Donald Trump in January negated months of protest, and a rare victory, by the Standing Rock Lakota nation in stopping a gas pipeline through sacred lands and a reservoir crucial to the tribe’s water supply. Trump overturned a moratorium on the pipeline...

Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann – review

A shocking episode of US history is recounted in this story of Native Americans murdered for their oil wealth Sometimes Cormac McCarthy writes a great American novel; every so often the Coen brothers make a great American film – and in the best traditions of American journalism, someone comes up with a story that cuts to a kernel of the national narrative; here is one of those. The timing of David Grann’s historical investigation into the systematic murder of Osage Native Americans in Oklahoma during the first quarter of the 20th century could not be more cogent. In the time it took to write his own signature, President Donald Trump in January negated months of protest, and a rare victory, by the Standing Rock Lakota nation in stopping a gas pipeline through sacred lands and a reservoir crucial to the tribe’s water supply. Trump overturned a moratorium on the pipeline...

Che, My Brother by Juan Martin Guevara review – the making of a revolutionary

A sibling’s affectionate account of the formative years of Che Guevara offers a compelling insightOne could argue that sufficient ink has been expended on Che Guevara. Those who fought with him, including Fidel Castro, have written memoirs, and there’s a definitive biography by the reporter who located Che’s body, Jon Lee Anderson. But, as Anderson himself says, wherever there is revolt or resistance, there is still that face: of the hero-revolutionary Bolivian nuns called “San Ernesto”. And there still exists an insatiable desire for more about the man behind the T-shirt or poster, especially when it comes from his family. Ernesto Guevara, “El Che”, was 15 when his younger brother Juan Martin was born, about to set off on the first of his adventures, by electrically powered bicycle, then motorbike, then the boat Granma, on which he sailed from Mexico to help ignite and lead the Cuban revolution. Continue reading...

The man who exposed the lie of the war on drugs

Roberto Saviano already lives under armed guard after writing about the Neapolitan mafia. Now he is determined to uncover capitalism’s complicity with the narco-lords of South AmericaPablo Escobar was “the first to understand that it’s not the world of cocaine that must orbit around the markets, but the markets that must rotate around cocaine”. Of course, Escobar didn’t put it that way: this heretical truth was posited by Roberto Saviano in his latest book Zero Zero Zero, the most important of the year and the most cogent ever written on how narco-traffic works. Here is a book that speaks what must be told at the end of another year of drug war spreading further and deeper, that tells what you will not learn from Narcos, Breaking Bad or the countless official reports. Continue reading...









Edna O’Brien: from Ireland’s cultural outcast to literary darling

The Irish novelist’s love of her home country is finally being reciprocated, but it’s been a long, hard road to acceptance from the days when her work was burned

This autumn season is something more akin to late springtide in the brilliant career of Edna O’Brien, described by her American peer Philip Roth as the greatest living woman writing in English.

In September, O’Brien was honoured as a Saoithe of Aosdána, Ireland’s highest literary accolade, but not only that: President Michael D Higgins made an official apology for the pious, envious scorn often heaped on O’Brien by her native land, and the banning of her books. He praised her as a “fearless teller of truth” who, he said, had continued to write “undaunted, sometimes by culpable incomprehension, authoritarian hostility and sometimes downright malice”.

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