A dying woman's attempt to recount the story of her life reveals the fragility of memory and the illusion of identity.
"Of all the words that could define her, the most accurate is, I think, ingenious."—Jorge Luis Borges
"I don't know of another writer who better captures the magic inside everyday rituals, the forbidden or hidden face that our mirrors don't show us."—Italo Calvino
"Few writers have an eye for the small horrors of everyday life; fewer still see the everyday marvelous. Other than Silvina Ocampo, I cannot think of a single writer who, at any time in any language, has chronicled both with such wise and elegant humor."––Alberto Manguel, author of Packing My Library: An Elegy and Ten Digressions
"Silvina Ocampo's prose is made of elegant pleasures and delicate terrors. Her stories take place in a liquid, viscous reality, where innocence quietly bleeds into cruelty, and the mundane seeps, unnoticed, into the bizarre. Revered by some of the masters of fantastic literature, such as Italo Calvino and Jorge Luis Borges, Ocampo is beyond great—she is necessary."—Hernan Diaz, author of In the Distance and Associate Director of the Hispanic Institute at Columbia University
"Like William Blake, Ocampo's first voice was that of a visual artist; in her writing she retains the will to unveil immaterial so that we might at least look at it if not touch it."—Helen Oyeyemi, author of Gingerbread
A woman traveling on a transatlantic ship has fallen overboard. Adrift at sea, she makes a promise to Saint Rita, "arbiter of the impossible," that if she survives, she will write her life story. As she drifts, she wonders what she might include in the story of her life—a repertoire of miracles, threats, and people parade through her mind. Little by little, her imagination begins to commandeer her memories, escaping the strictures of realism.
Translated into English for the very first time, The Promise showcases Silvina Ocampo at her most feminist, idiosyncratic and subversive. Ocampo worked quietly to perfect this novella over the course of twenty-five years, nearly up until the time of her death in 1993. The narrator's conflicted memory, as well as the intrusion of memories that are not her own, illustrate Ocampo's struggle with dementia in the last years of her life, and much like the author herself, here we find a narrator writing "against a world of conventional ideas."
Praise for The Promise:
"Silvina Ocampo's fiction is wondrous, heart-piercing, and fiercely strange. Her fabulism is as charming as Borges's. Her restless sense of invention foregrounds the brilliant feminist work of writers like Clarice Lispector and Samanta Schweblin. It's thrilling to have work of this magnitude finally translated into English, head spinning and thrilling."—Alyson Hagy, author of Scribe
"A woman examines her life piecemeal, putting it together like a puzzle missing half its pieces—but the resulting image is all the more mesmerizing because of it. A deft and subtle novel that holds together as airily as a spider's web."—Brian Evenson, author of Song for the Unraveling of the World: Stories
"Silvina Ocampo's The Promise, which she spent 25 years perfecting, is one of my favorite 2019 books. It's one of the most hopeful novels I've read in a long time, about the necessity of storytelling and the power of the mind."—Gabe Habash, author of Stephen Florida
"Only a masterful storyteller could pull off what Silvina Ocampo does in The Promise; a woman lost at sea drowns in her memories, while the water—never threatening—cradles her with echoes of the past. A novel that is not a novel; a hypnosis, really."—Gabriela Alemán, author of Poso Wells
"Silvina Ocampo was once called the 'the best kept secret of Argentine letters,' and was, through her own work and that of those she championed, a key figure of modernism. Known primarily in the English-speaking world as a friend of Borges and wife to his collaborator Bioy Casares, the translation of more of her work into English is a reason to celebrate her for her own right, as one of the most singular writers of the 20th century."—Stephen Sparks, Point Reyes Books, CA
"Translated into English for the first time by Suzanne Jill Levine, one of Latin Americas most gifted translators, and Jessica Powell, The Promise brings to an English-speaking public the work of Silvina Ocampo, a writer of great depth and audacity. The Promise, a novel written and rewritten over a period of 25 years, recounts the story of a woman adrift at sea telling and remembering her own life as well as the lives of others. An exquisite, fantastical, and philosophical novel that dwells about the ways one represents a life without fears or conventions. A masterpiece from an extraordinary author who deserves to be read over and over. A gem."—Marjorie Agosin, author of I Lived On Butterfly Hill
"Silvina Ocampo's richly textured world shimmers with childhood sweetness and sorrow. Her narrator's hyper-observant gaze travels through the multiplying interiors of houses, mirrors, dresses, adult giants, dream figures, and nimble acrobats, in search of love stolen by bad magic. Ocampo inhabits and brings to life a hyper-real, surreal, and resolutely feminine world ruled by unapologetic beauty and pervading sadness. She is a close kin of Remedios Varo and Frida Kahlo, weavers of the magical Latin American art that bewitches us time after time. This beautiful translation fully renders that magic."—Andrei Codrescu, author of No Time Like Now: New Poems
"There is literature that takes the known world (a dinner party or a walk with a dog, first love or a visit to friends) and shows it in a way we've never seen before; there is literature that takes us to a place we’ve never been (early twentieth-century Buenos Aires or adrift in the middle of the ocean) and makes it somehow familiar. The marvel of Silvina Ocampo’s fiction is that it does both things simultaneously, its deepest context the confluence of the things of this world ('a heavy wool dress embroidered with flowers, the sleeves poorly attached,' 'a big box full of nails, newspaper clippings and old pieces of wire,' 'vanity tables without legs . . . old pharmaceutical flasks . . . chess pieces, chandeliers, minatures') and the ineffable mystery of mortality ('I close the windows, shut my eyes and see blue, green, red, yellow, purple, white, white. White foam, blue. Death will be like this, when it drags me from the little room of my hands.')"—Kathryn Davis, author of The Silk Road