Review: Shifting Colours by Fiona Sussman

Own the book: Yes
Source: Goodreads First Reads
Format: Hardback
Published: 22nd May 2014 by Allison & Busby
Price: N/A
Date Read: 12th July 2014

Note: I received this copy of Shifting Colours by Fiona Sussman for free through Goodreads First Reads. The opinions and thoughts I share in this review are my own.


I was extremely fortunate to receive this book; it turned out to be one I didn’t know I needed to read. When I opened the package, the first thing that struck me was the gorgeous cover; the girl in the red dress under a tree full with purple blossom. The tree I think is some kind of jacaranda. The blurb on the back reads:

‘This is the sweet memory of Mme, my dear mother. The first sweet memory…sometimes her laughter bursts into my head or I hear her call me – my name full and round in her mouth. Frustratingly though, as with all the memories I have of Mme, her face always blurs under the pressure of my focus’

Let me begin by saying that if you’re looking for an easy read, this is not the book for you. If you’re going to read it, be ready for emotion, intelligence and a story that will stay with you and make you think.

Shifting colours is, at its very basics a story about a mother and her child. The mother, Celia, is a black woman in South Africa during the apartheid and a maid in the house of a white couple; Rita and Michael. Her daughter is called Miriam, a young and outgoing child who is excited about the world and eager to explore. With the increasing unrest and danger, Rita and Michael decide to move back to England, offering to give Celia’s daughter Miriam a new and better life there with them. Celia, longing for better for her daughter agrees, being told that she will of course see her daughter again soon, that letters will be written, news shared and that Miriam will return. She doesn’t. Rita and Michael on returning to England with their newly legally adopted daughter Miriam cast aside the promises made and lie to Miriam about her mother. Heartbreaking.

Over the following years, the story dips into the then very different and often upsetting lives of Celia and Miriam. Celia in Africa; trying to make her way in life and supporting her remaining children as well as an ailing mother and Miriam in England; tormented by bullies, an unloving adopted mother and knowing that she doesn’t really fit in anywhere.

Fiona Sussman writes with unwavering and often brutal honesty. Many of the situations were heart-rending but I also found a brilliance in her writing. Her descriptions and language brought the story to life and I could smell the air of Africa and visualise the places Miriam and Celia travelled. Lives so very different to my own. I found the narrative of the differences between England and Africa to be startling and I hope to one day travel to the continent to see it for myself.

There is so much I could say about this book but the words do not come. How difficult it is to write of emotions and wild thoughts.

I will end by saying that I feel I am starting to know just a little more about a situation and time that was long before I was born. A time which for many is still so close though.

Please read. It will be difficult, but you won’t regret it.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥½


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