Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Colour of Milk

The Colour of Milk by British author Nell Leyshon is a heartbreakingly haunting novel; a beautiful, gut-wrenching and unforgettable read that touches your heart with the simplicity of its words and its heroine. Mary begins her story with the words “this is my book and I am writing it by my own hand,” of significant importance since the previously illiterate farm girl has only recently learned to read and write. With her newfound knowledge and brutal honesty, Mary shares the truth of her tale of woe over the past year.

Beginning in 1830, spirited 14-year old Mary, born with a limp and hair the color of milk, and her three sisters – Beatrice, Violet and Hope – toil from sun up to sun down performing backbreaking work on their brutal father’s farm; bearing his anger and punishment whenever he’s dissatisfied. Determined to make the most of his useless daughter, her father hires Mary out to the local vicar to help with his ailing wife. Forced to leave the only world she’s known and her beloved grandfather, Mary finds her new surroundings foreign and unsettling, yet with her plain spoken ways and unguarded innocence she wins over the affection of her new employers, and goes on to realize her greatest dream, to learn to read and write, though that knowledge comes at a tragic price.

The Colour of Milk is a small book with all the weight and power of an epic saga. Tiny in both size and length, I read this mini-masterpiece in one sitting and cried for longer than it took me to read it. Written in the simple words of a child, each word shared without guile or artifice bears the truth of a life of hardship and struggle, where even dreams are a luxury you can’t afford. In its pages, we are charmed and enchanted by the most winsome of spirits; a child with fire, heart and wisdom beyond her years, whose hopeful spirit and optimism makes our journey with her that much more agonizing.

As gripping, emotional and riveting as Celie’s story from The Color Purple or Precious’ struggles in Push by Sapphire, Mary’s voice will resonate in your heart. You will love her, root for her and even at book’s end, with your broken heart at your feet, smile for this beautiful soul who’s lived her life by no one else’s rules and who finally finds triumph and freedom.

Like I said, the book is tiny, so there isn’t much more to add, other than to say read it. The Colour of Milk is a book whose name deserves to be shouted from the rafters. Yes, it is sad. You will cry. But its beauty is so worth the price of a few measly tears.