Shifting Colours by Fiona Sussman
Published in 2014 by Allison & Busby
My copy: Library
Celia Mphephu works as a maid for Mr and Mrs Steiner in a leafy, white man’s suburb of 1960s Johannesburg. When racial tensions in the country reach fever pitch and the Steiners plan to relocate to England, they offer to adopt Celia’s young daughter Miriam and raise her as their own. But Miriam finds England to be very different to the place the Steiners have told her about. And so begins her long journey through the years, back to South Africa, to find her mother and herself….
This book is told in the first person by two narrators – Miriam and her mother Celia, and we get both points of view over several years. I found myself drawn into the story immediately, and the two voices worked very well. Immediately you have the contrast of the rich and beautiful sights, sounds and smells of South Africa against the harsh treatment of black people, and Celia in particular knows her place in society and has accepted this fate, and will do nothing to rock the boat. Miriam on the other hand sees the world through more innocent eyes, and is helpless when she finds herself taken on ‘holiday’ by her mother’s employers…
We then get the interesting portrayal of England in the 60s – a country where everyone is seemingly accepted, but underneath the surface there is deep seated racism and suspicion, and Miriam ends up suffering more overt prejudice than she had in South Africa. The years pass and we continue to hear from the two narrators and the ways in which their lives change and develop over time, and the ways in which each character struggles with her predicament. Celia and Miriam both develop brilliantly over time, and each of their stories really kept me gripped.
The final part of the book didn’t work quite as well for me as it did feel at times that the book had turned into a history lesson, but this was a very small section that certainly didn’t take away from the main story. I was actually quite gutted to find out that this is the author’s only novel to date as I enjoyed this one so much. Although an easy and enjoyable read, it is very sad in places and shows you how brutal apartheid could be for those who lived through it.
My rating: 9 out of 10