The Promise

The Promise
Foreword by Ernesto Montequin
Translated by Suzanne Jill Levine, Jessica Powell

Chris Via's "Leaf by Leaf" video review
Feb 9, 2021

"The Literary Review"
Oct 5, 2020

"For the right reader, Silvina Ocampo might be just what is needed."—Erik Noonan, The Literary Review

A review in "Review: Literature and Arts of the Americas"
Jun 17, 2020

"Silvina Ocampo's novel, which took a very long time to come into existence, turns out to be among the more singular works of literature."—Jason Weiss

Review in the "New York Review of Books"
Apr 23, 2020

" . . . a bold phantasmagoria, marked by Ocampo's insight that in extremis, delirium can be the highest form of truth."—Laura Kolbe

Review on 1st Reading's Blog
Apr 6, 2020

" . . . much of the novel is focused on the theme of love, but it is primarily about memory. Ocampo continued to write the novel (begun in the sixties) until the years before her death in 1993, and it is difficult not to see elements of it as a response to approaching mortality. The disappearing ship is the sense that life is leaving her behind, the stories an attempt to ward off death . . . "

KCRW "Bookworm" Interview with Michael Silverblatt
Feb 20, 2020

"Silvina Ocampo is the next writer you should be reading."—Michael Silverblatt

Review of The Promise
Feb 7, 2020

"Ocampo's one hundred and three page novella, which she spent twenty-five years perfecting, feels like unearthed obsidian. It is both gorgeous and unsettling, like looking into a glittering darkness you could lose yourself in."—Chris Phipps, City Lights Bookstore

Review in the "Times Literary Supplement"
Jan 24, 2020

"Suzanne Jill Levine, working with Jessica Powell on The Promise and Katie Lateef-Jan on Forgotten Journey, has produced a translation that beautifully captures the elegance and strangeness of Ocampo's style. . . . The results are intoxicating."—Miranda France

Review in "The Paris Review"
Jan 17, 2020

"Diamonds, Dionysus, and Drowning: . . . every sentence glints with precision . . . what you're after are the sentences, which have the feel of epigrams . . . I think I took a photo of nearly every other page so as not to forget them."—Rhian Sasseen 

Review in the Southwest Review
Jan 8, 2020

"The majority of Silvina Ocampo's characters are female, and there is an accompanying feminism—subtle yet disruptive—that echoes through both Forgotten Journey and The Promise. Largely evincing a politics of acknowledgement and witness, her writing quietly reveals the double standards and ironies layered into mundane aspects of the lives of the women in her stories."

Essay in the Los Angeles Review of Books
Dec 5, 2019


"In The Promise, Ocampo further addresses the many forms of love, and femininity, through selective, shattered memory. The Promise is the longest piece of fiction and only novel that Ocampo wrote. In Ernesto Montequín's introduction, he writes that Ocampo first mentioned writing it in an interview in 1966. Ocampo claims that it took her decades to complete the novel because 'the main character is endlessly telling us things; something is making this woman talk on and on, telling one thing after another. It's a promise that she has made and that she keeps so as not to die, but one can tell she is dying.' The novel was finally published in 2011, almost 20 years after Ocampo’s death in 1993."—Claire Mullen

Review in Zyzzyva
Nov 6, 2019

"These are the moments that elevate The Promise into a higher echelon of letters; simultaneously, death proves evasive and nostalgia serves as a survival tactic. All the while readers get to witness the wondrous tightrope act Ocampo performs, traipsing back and forth between past and present."—John Gibbs

LitHub Essay: Mariana Enriquez on the Radical, Subversive Power of Silvina Ocampo
Nov 6, 2019
"The world is ready for her blend of insane Angela Carter with the originality of Clarice Lispector."—Mariana Enriquez

Feature on Words Without Borders
Oct 30, 2019
In anticipation of City Lights's publication of Silvina Ocampo’s Forgotten Journey (tr. Suzanne Jill Levine and Katie Lateef-Jan) and The Promise (tr. Suzanne Jill Levine and Jessica Powell), Argentine writer and critic María Agustina Pardini reflects on Ocampo’s writing and legacy and speaks with the translators of the forthcoming works.

Review on NPR
Oct 26, 2019

"Both her debut story collection, Forgotten Journey, and her only novel, The Promise, are strikingly 20th-century texts, written in a high-modernist mode rarely found in contemporary fiction. The translator Suzanne Jill Levine worked on both books, collaborating with Katie Lateef-Jan on Forgotten Journey and Jessica Powell on The Promise. Together, the three have captured Ocampo's Surrealist style beautifully, creating translations powered by image and mood rather than character or plot."—Lily Meyer

Feature on BookRiot
Oct 24, 2019

Fall 2019 New Releases In Translation Roundup.

"Legend Silvina Ocampo worked on perfecting this novel over the course of 25 years, right up until her death in 1993, and it's out this fall in its first ever English translation. It's being published alongside Forgotten Journey a collection of short stories by Ocampo translated by Suzanne Jill Levine and Katie Lateef-Jan. In The Promise, a woman reminisces about her life, and lets her imagination get away with her, after falling overboard into the sea—a reflection of Ocampo’s own struggles with dementia and her interest in memory and identity. It’s said to be Ocampo 'at her most feminist, idiosyncratic and subversive' and I just can’t wait to get my hands on it and Forgotten Journey."—Pierce Alquist

Review of The Promise at "Reading in Translation"
Oct 21, 2019

"Her obliquely-focused narrative lens requires readers to experience the off-kilter sensation of a slant perspective, lending a cinematic quality to her gothic themes."—Dorothy Potter Snyder, "Reading in Translation"

Oct 18, 2019

"It's an extraordinary book, for which only Borges’s description of her writing will do—clairvoyant."—Brian Dillon, 4Columns

Big Indie Books of Fall 2019, Publishers Weekly
Sep 2, 2019

"In the final work and only novel from Ocampo (1903–1993), a dying woman attempts to recount the story of her life and in the process reveals the fragility of memory and the illusion of identity. Although, as Stephen Sparks, owner of Point Reyes Books in Point Reyes Station, Calif., points out, 'Silvina Ocampo is 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.' City Lights is also publishing Ocampo's Forgotten Journey: Stories trans. by Suzanne Jill Levine and Katie Lateef-Jan, in October."—Judith Rosen

Feature in "Perfil," Argentina
Sep 9, 2019

Maria Agustina Pardini discusses the new releases of Silvina Ocampo's work with translators Suzanne Jill Levine, Jessica Powell, and Katie Lateef-Jan, and City Lights' Publisher (and the books' editor) Elaine Katzenberger.

Review in the Women's Review of Books
Sep 1, 2019

"Forgotten Journey and The Promise by late Argentine writer Silvina Ocampo are cornucopias, outpourings of words with the same concision we ascribe to nature. Descriptions pour forth not like water but sap, ensuring the reader will pause and savor, not just in a portrait but every paragraph, each word."—Ana Castillo, Women's Review of Books

Starred Review * Kirkus Reviews
Aug 19, 2019

"A woman relives the people and places of her life while stranded in the middle of the ocean. The premise of Argentinian writer Ocampo's posthumously published novella, which she worked on for the final 25 years of her life, is a grand metaphor for the authorial condition. On her way to visit family in Cape Town, the nameless narrator somehow slips over the railing of her trans-Atlantic ship and regains consciousness in the water, watching 'the ship…calmly moving away.' Adrift, facing almost certain death, she makes a pact with St. Rita, the 'arbiter of the impossible,' that she will write a 'dictionary of memories,' and publish it in one year's time, if she is saved. What follows is an intensely focused series of vignettes in which the characters of the narrator's life once more walk through their dramas. There's Leandro, a handsome and feckless young doctor with 'a face as variable as the weather'; Irene, his intensely focused lover and a medical student in her own right; Gabriela, Irene's obsessive daughter; and Verónica, a not-so-innocent ingénue. These central characters' stories entwine and begin to form the basis of a tale that includes our narrator—who is present as a voyeur but never an active participant—but her drifting consciousness is just as likely to alight upon less crucial secondary characters like Worm, Gabriela's countryside companion, or Lily and Lillian, devoted friends who fall in love with the same man because 'instead of kissing him they were kissing each other.' As the narrator's memories progress, and sometimes repeat, they grow increasingly nightmarish in their domestic surrealism. Meanwhile, as all chance of rescue fades, her sense of self is diluted by the immense mystery of the sea. Completed in the late 1980s, at a time when Ocampo was grappling with the effects of Alzheimer's, the book can be read as a treatise on the dissolution of selfhood in the face of the disease. However, its tactile insistence on the recurrence of memory, its strangeness, and its febrile reality are themes that mark the entirety of Ocampo's oeuvre and articulate something more enduring even than death. 'I'm going to die soon! If I die before I finish what I'm writing no one will remember me, not even the person I loved most in the world,' the narrator exclaims in the final pages. This urgency and despair seem to sum up the central tenet of the artist's condition—even in the final extreme, the act of making is a tonic against obscurity. Art is the cure for death. A seminal work by an underread master. Required for all students of the human condition."

Excerpt in Latin American Literature Today
Aug 16, 2019

Just as when I was sick and, after being in bed for forty days, I missed my bed, now I miss the sea. Ah, the sea. "The sea full of masculine urgency." Whose line was that? Gabriela, oh how beautiful she was! Her eyes were the color of the sea. . . .


Three Percent blog:
Aug 5, 2019

"Ocampo is a legend, and this, her longest work, has never before made it into English. . . . Add to that an intriguing premise—a woman falls overboard on a transatlantic voyage and, while she floats along for hour after hour, promises that if she survives, she'll write her life story—and some really sharp prose (wonderfully rendered by two top notch translators) and you just know this book is going to be great."—Chad Post

LITHUB -- Most Anticipated Books of 2019
Jul 9, 2019

"Year by year, more of the great Argentinian Silvina Ocampo is restored to us, like the lost work of a luminously dark seer. Borges and Calvino were in her thrall: the fantastic Mariana Enriquez has written an entire book on her. Yet Ocampo remains an obscure writer to most. Yet what work she wrote, what an incredible life she lived. These two newly translated books could make her a rediscovery on par with Clarice Lispector. In The Promise, a woman falls overboard a transatlantic ship and confronts her regrets and longings as she bobs in the freezing water. Forgotten Journey gives us 28 short stories, translated into English for the first time, providing a surprising glimpse of the birth of gothic fiction in Latin America which dates back to the 1930s. Lusciously strange, uncompromising, yet balanced and precise, there has never been another voice like hers."—John Freeman, Executive Editor, LITHUB

Starred Review * Publishers Weekly
Jun 24, 2019

"This haunting and vital final work from Ocampo (1903–1993), her only novel, is about a woman's life flashing before her eyes when she's stranded in the ocean. The nameless narrator has fallen off a ship, and as she floats, her mind takes over, presenting a flotilla of real and imagined memories about the people in her life in the form of a version of the book she promises herself she'll finish. The book's main thread is a woman, Irene, and a man, Leandro, with whom both Irene and the narrator get involved. But the fluid narrative also encompasses brief snapshots of a murder mystery, the narrator’s grandmother’s eye doctor ('In profile, his intent rabbit face was not as kind as it was head-on.'), her hairdresser, her ballerina neighbor, and the fruit vendor to whom her brother was attracted as a boy ('it was a fruit relationship, perhaps symbolizing sex'). The narrator’s potent, dynamic voice yields countless memorable lines and observations: 'The only advantage of being a child is that time is doubly wide, like upholstery fabric'; 'What is falling in love, anyway? Letting go of disgust, of fear, letting go of everything.' But the book’s true power is its depiction of the strength of the mind ('what I imagine becomes real, more real than reality') and the necessity of storytelling, which for the narrator is literally staving off death: 'I told stories to death so that it would spare my life.' Ocampo’s portrait of one woman’s interior life is forceful and full of hope."—Gabe Habash, Publishers Weekly, * Starred Review