Review: Jakob's Colours

I think it was pretty much a given that I was going to love Jakob’s Colours. I mean, let’s be honest here, it ticks pretty much all my boxes, all of them; everyone knows I love a book that makes my heart hurt. Jakob’s Colours made my heart hurt. I didn’t cry, but then I didn’t cry when I read The Book Thief either; it made me too sad to cry. This was kind of the same thing, I had that kind of hollow feeling at the end, that weird kind of emptiness that comes in part from the end of a book that you’ve just let absorb you and in part from the fact that said book has made you feel too many things to really know what to do with. I didn’t start another book as soon as I finished this one, like I would normally. I kind of just needed some time.

Jakob’s Colours is set for the most part in Austria in 1944 and is about Jakob, a little gypsy boy, running like his father told him to do, running because he still just about can, although he has nowhere to run to and is unable to feel anything really, but fear.  Jakob’s father told him not to be afraid, to see the colours, and Jakob does, so brightly that it almost hurts your eyes.
Mixed in with Jakob’s story we get ‘Before’ when Jakob and his Mother and his brother and sister are lost and alone and hiding and searching for his father and we get ‘Long Before’ where we see Jakob’s mother growing up in England, the events that result in her being sent to an asylum where she meets Jakob’s father (a gypsy boy) and how they manage, despite the odds being stacked against them, to build their life together, interspersed with little bits where the family is together that leave you with a knot in your tummy and all of it, it’s all kinds of beautiful. This Day, Before, Long Before, all of it, it’s just stunning; it goes backwards and forwards, from this time to that with a pace that leaves you breathless, as breathless as Jakob is, as he runs.
In the present day Jakob meets Markus – you need to be prepared for that. You just, you really do. If you’ve read The Book Thief then I’m just going to say to you Liesel and Max and leave it at that, because whilst this is in no way the same, the relationship between these two characters invokes the same sort of all-encompassing hurty feeling that you don’t quite know how to express.

In a complete contrast to the hollow feeling I got at the end – the last 40 pages or so sat heavy on my chest and although the ending didn’t surprise me, it winded me all the same. STAMP ON MY HEART WHY DON’T YOU LINDSAY HAWDON (I love you) – the whole book was infused with a weird kind of heart, like, it was constantly heartbreaking but not always despairing. Does that make sense? Let me try and explain what I mean. Bad stuff happens in this book, it’s about a holocaust, let’s not be naïve, bad stuff happens and it tears you apart but it’s kind of balanced out by the other stuff, by the beauty, by the colours, by the love. The thing is, I’m not sure if that balance is a good thing, I mean it’s a good thing, but from the point of view of my fragile emotional state perhaps not so much because when Markus is so unbelievably tender to Jakob, when his Mother wraps herself around him at night, when his Father tells him see the colours, my boy, well I’m not entirely convinced that all of that tenderness doesn’t make the hard stuff harder.

This is a book that is full of colour and full of faith and wonder and it hurts. It opened my eyes to gypsy life and culture, and to the gypsy holocaust, which we hear so little about when really we should because, I don’t know, because it matters. They mattered. Up to 1.5million gypsies were killed by 1945 and it went unrecognised until 1982. Just, how? It blows my mind in the worst way possible that just when you think WWII can’t have been any worse, you find out something new and horrific and so terrible you can barely believe it happened at all, except it did and you have to believe it because to not, to shy away, is to do the memory of those people a disservice.  

Jakob's Colours is incredibly beautifully written, the characters so real they made me ache, the descriptions so vivid, and the emotions so raw and honest. This is a book that is going to matter, it’s a book that’s going to open eyes and raise questions and it’s book that should, really, win All The Awards. I didn’t enjoy it because it’s not the kind of book you enjoy, but I loved it. Also, I don’t know what the finished cover looks like, but the proof copy is so damn beautiful good gracious. 

It's out today. Read it.