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02 November 2011

Review: The Vase with the Many Coloured Marbles

"The vase is like South Africa, a country filled with people of many colours, a few who are truly uncut gems."  (pg 322)

It has been a long time since I've read a "grown-up" book.  When I received an email asking if I would read and review The Vase with the Many Coloured Marbles by Jacob Singer, I was intrigued and jumped at the opportunity. 

Here is the synopsis (copied from the back of the book):
The name of Nelson Mandela is familiar to many, as a warrior against the injustices of apartheid.  But many South Africans worked to break the power of the Verwoerd regime:  the Black ANC and PAC, but also English and Afrikaans-speaking whites.  In The Vase with the Many Coloured Marbles, Jacob Singer draws on his personal knowledge and experience to reach out to all South Africans, especially those who left the country because of violence; who live in exile all over the world.  Jacob tells the stories of men and women who were harassed and discriminated against, and the politicians in the government who surrepitiously worked against the very regime that had employed them.  You'll read about unsung heroes such as Emily Kleintjies, who crossed the apartheid barrier and established herself as a white woman.  You don't have to be South African or a student of history to learn from this remarkable book, which shares a wealth of unique experiences.  Everyone who is concerned with justice and the human condition will be fascinated and enlightened by the tragedies and triumphs shared in Jacob Singer's words.  

The book itself is divided into two books, one about Emma (Emily) and the other focusing on her daughter, Marla.  In reality, though, the storylines cross so much, that it just reads as one book, with each chapter focusing on a different character. 

Born into a "Coloured" family in Distric 6 of Cape Town, Emily Kleintjies was so light-skinned that she could pass for white.  Seeing the racism and disadvantages her life would face if she remained in Cape Town / District 6, she taught herself English mannerisms, way of dress and diction in order to move to Johannesburg and try to pass herself off as white.  She moves to Johannesburg, changes her name to Emma Kline and finds work at a local department store as a lingerie buyer, and part-time model for a fashion designer.  Eventually, she meets and falls in love with Eric, but he is sent to the front lines of WWII.  Emma, who didn't tell Eric her secret, finds herself pregnant with his child, Marla.  Eventually, with the help of friends, she gets papers forged to say she was born to a white, European family.  

The many characters and stories are so intertwined, but tie together so nicely, that I feel like I can't talk about one without telling about everyone, how they are involved, and then that just tells the entire story! 

I'll admit, I was a little disappointed in the way Emma had to harden her heart against her family and divide her life into compartments, but I understand why she felt she had to.  I was also a little disappointed that she felt she had to keep it a secret from Marla for so long, but was pleasantly surprised by Marla's reaction (after reading so many teen angst and drama books, it was very nice to have a character not go off in a huff).

The synopsis on the back of the book doesn't do it justice.  Its so much more than what was presented.  I really enjoyed it---so much in fact, that I gave it to my sister Sunday night to read (as soon as I had finished it).

Publication info:
Format:             6 x 9 paperback white.
ISBN:                978-1-4237-7544-5
Cover Price:            $21.95
Trade Discount:        50%
Also Available:        Ebook Edition
Pages:                356
Category:            HISTORY/Africa/South/Republic of South Africa
Available at :  
Distributed via:        Ingram, Baker & Taylor
Published by:            Outskirts Press, Inc
Receive up to 50% off at :
Publication Date:        September 23rd, 2011

The book is in final edit, and will be available by end of October 2011.

I would like to thank the author, Jacob Singer, so much for sending me a copy of his book to read and review. 

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