One of my goals for the year was to read 3 fiction books (I think it was 3). I made it through two: The Five People You Meet in Heaven and A Lesson Before Dying. When I received the pitch for this book, I decided to request a review copy and make it the 3rd.
The Vase with the Many Coloured Marbles is a book that contains two stories: Book 1 Emma, a young girl, finds that she is classified as a second class citizen because she is biracial (white and black). She rebels and decides to cross the colour barrier and enter the white European community with her fair skin allowing her to pass as white; Book 2 “Marla, Emma’s daughter, is raised as white and at the university she attends, becomes very active in opposing apartheid. She learns from Emma that her true grandmother is a Cape Coloured and is on her deathbed. Emma would like her mother to see a grandchild she never knew she had.”
As I read through Book 1, I could see that a lot of care went into this novel. It is filled with historical facts and vivid details of the characters. The author also includes content on cultural idiosyncrasies in some Cape Town communities. I was curious enough to circle several of these items and enjoyed the extra tidbits I picked up after doing additional research of my own.
I did not expect that I’d have to learn so many characters. A few times I thought everyone had been introduced only to see another unfamiliar name. Once I made it to Chapter 6, I didn’t want to meet anyone else! However, the author established a connection between all of these people and the main character, Emma.
Emma decides to leave home in order to assume a new identity and live as a white woman. She disguises anything about herself that would allow her to be identified as black in her quest to live an ‘unrestricted’ life. I'm not sure how to feel about this decision. The synopsis on the back cover of the book heralds her as an ‘unsung hero'. I wouldn't go that far. Is it heroic to live a life that denies part of who you are? Is it heroic to befriend people and have a romantic relationship with a man while intentionally hiding from them your true self? There’s so surprise in the irony that by denying she was black she was always fearful that someone would discover who she really was.
Although the book was written as a novel, the characters truly did exist. Singer notes the following, ‘I used a writer’s license to create their conversations and interactions with each other.’
Jacob Singer, who was born 1935 near Johannesburg, agreed to do an interview shortly after I received the book. Hopefully he’s still up to it. If so, are there any questions you’d like me to ask?
Click here to see my interview with the author.
The Vase with the Many Coloured Marbles on Amazon
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