The Book of Colour by Julia Blackburn

DATE FINISHED: July 24th, 2012 

RATED: **** 

SYNOPSIS:  When the family is cursed by a ‘devil’ islander, the narrator’s grandfather as a boy is uprooted from the home he has known and transplanted into an alternative island life, now under the care of his uncle and ‘his mulatto’, while his father stays behind, and his mother is placed in an asylum.  A history of curses, mixed race unions and cultural bigotry haunts the family through generations.

THOUGHTS:  In the first part of the book some intriguing images are introduced but the characters appear as though within a dream or trance-like state.  In the second part of the book, however, the narrative becomes more linear as the story of the narrator’s grandfather (as a child) is told. Set on an island once proclaimed as the original paradise and travelling along to Mauritius, Blackburn weaves a dark tale through the bright sunlight and cloying heat. Alongside the palm trees, exotic fruits and tropical island life coexists another world, peopled with the threat of werewolves, zombies and black magic.

In the third and fourth parts of the book dreams, nightmares and memories once more collide, this time with a sense of infinite sadness as we see an old man with no grasp on anything but the worlds he has left behind. A victim of the family ‘curse’, there are mixed feelings with the mixed blood, and the madness of memories.  Each generation has its own way of dealing with demons.

Blackburn juxtaposes the luscious island imagery with a brooding atmosphere, each moment of beauty exposing a hidden danger or rotten core. There is also a gentle underlying humour, revealed at unexpected moments in this beautifully written and original cross-cultural family saga.

FOLLOWING ON: The hypocritical reception of mixed race unions is reminiscent of A True Story Based on Lies by Jennifer Clement.  Haunted family legacies are also explored in Kehua! by Fay Weldon.


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