THE BOOK OF COLOR by Julia Blackburn


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 From the author of the recently acclaimed biography Daisy Bates in the Desert (1994) comes a first novel of beauty and accomplishment, its subject of racial fear and intolerance drawn from Blackburn's own family history. The story is a saga of guilt and suffering that has its start late in the 19th century when a missionary from England comes to an island near Mauritius, in the Indian Ocean, ``to stamp out copulation'' (as his son later puts it). What he actually stamps out, however, is the happiness of his family and descendants: The first victim is his own wife, whom he drives cruelly to madness after discovering her having sex with an island native; then there's his own guilt-driven son, suspected of having black blood, who nevertheless echoes his father by taking up a repressive ministry and returning to England; and finally, there's his son, who carries the family's color-guilt and madness deep into the 20th century. The tale itself, however, is only the skeleton of sorrow upon which Blackburn hangs the woven beauties of her own telling of it. Every bit as important as what things happen when are the author's wondrous shifts in time and her deft and inventive intertwinings of image, symbol, and character as they do. Imagine a narrator going into a house in the company of a rather friendly pig; coming upon the narrator's astonishingly old grandfather there; then sitting under a table with the pig as it casually eats a leatherbound book. From one recurring detail to another (the pigor one like it, in earlier timeis the lonely grandfather's boyhood pet), Blackburn evokes the world of 19th-century Mauritius, of 20th-century England, and the terrible sorrows of repression, loneliness, slavery, madness, and lossall with a deftness, confidence, and magic that, by making it joyful, raise tragedy to its uttermost. A rare, wonderful achievement in the novel.

Pub Date: Sept. 12th, 1995
ISBN: 0-679-43983-8
Page count: 192pp
Publisher: Pantheon
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 1995


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