Friday, August 31, 2012

The vase with the many coloured marbles- Jacob Singer

The vase with the many coloured marbles 
by Jacob Singer

The lives of Emma and Marla will absorb a readers’ attention. Emma’s struggles and achievements touch your heart and inspire you to work harder - improving life for yourself and your family, but also for those around you  who experience society’s injustices. 
Marla’s storybook romance adds  to the enjoyment of the book. This historical fiction account of life in 1920’s through 1960’s South Africa concludes with a short chapter 
- entitled “The Politics” - which gives additional information about events related to apartheid. The two sections of the book focus first on the life of Emma, then on the life of Marla, her daughter. 
Emma (Emily,) born into a “coloured” family, feels the injustice of the segregationist society; however because she is able to “pass” as a “white,” she crosses barriers that the rest of her family cannot. Emma strongly believes in the power of education. 
After completing high school, she is determined to attend the university, but her family is large and needs the income she could provide. Rather than work at a low-paying job in Cape Town, Emma decides to use her lighter skin and the English language she perfected to travel to Johannesburg to live and work as a “white.” Emma keeps learning, working hard, and making friends, some of whom know her secret. (Some of her friends fled Nazi Germany only to find a similar prejudice infesting the country to which they had escaped.) She sends her family money which they use to improve their house, when permitted, and educate her sisters and brothers. Behind the scenes, she works with and donates money to groups that are attempting to reverse apartheid laws, while also trying to stop the imposition of harsher new laws after the 1960’s. Her daughter Marla is raised as a white, but she and many of her college friends protest the overnment’s policies although this always causes Emma to worry that Marla’s heritage will be discovered.Young adult and adult readers will enjoy reading the story of Emily’s transformation into Emma, a store lingerie buyer, homeowner, and part time model. The friendships and romances of both Emma and Marla introduce intelligent, sometimes funny, caring characters into the storyline. 
For a reader who knows very little about South Africa and its history, the book is a wealth of information about a beautiful country, blessed with rich resources, but troubled by segregationist attitudes which became more established and immoral over time. 

Jacob SingerBorn in Potchefstroom, South Africa. Now living in Vancouver, Canada. This is a story about people I knew in South Africa; a story about how they survived and fought the apartheid era of Hendrik Vervoerd. It is a powerful story, about a young girl, Emily Kleintjies, born a Coloured, and therefore classified as a second class citizen. She decides to jump the racial barrier. The story is about her life.

's review 

May 18, 12
5 of 5 stars false
Read in May, 2012

This is an intriguing book that starts in pre war South Africa with a young girl challenging the racial divide and bravely stepping across to live as a White, virtually abandoning her coloured family in the process. Emily becomes Emma and adopts English as her first language, dresses and styles herself to deny her origins. This is the beginning of her awakening to injustice and her reaction to the prevailing culture and political system of her country which denies her basic opportunities. Encounters with others who have survived and overcome similar prejudice in other countries encourage and help her to carve herself a new place for in South African society and to get and hold down a challenging job. At the same time political awareness begins to emerge and she faces a major dilemma when asked for her hand in marriage by a white man.

The way the story is told eases one into South Africa’s politics subtly whilst bringing Emma to life as a vivid and interesting character. As the reader, her dilemmas and fears become yours and the continual twists of the story produce an exciting sequence of colourful and interesting surprises,, much like the eponymous vase filled with many coloured marbles. The vase itself does not appear until well into the story, but from then on it keeps reappearing with a subtle underlying relevance all the way through to the end.

What begins as the story of a young girl crossing the racial divide soon becomes much more, giving intimate insights into different aspects of South African society. Each of these has its own pressures and strains, its own strengths and prejudices, all of which are brought into the spotlight through the situations Emma and her growing daughter encounter. Spanning two generations, this book is almost a family saga, but without the long winded tracts such books normally involve. The second section picks up the story of Marla, Emma’s daughter, following her emergence from schoolgirl to university student and onwards. Against the backdrop of South Africa’s most turbulent years, when apartheid was in the ascendancy, witnessing the Sharpville shootings and the emergence of new political organisations, we see a young woman awakening to injustice in her country and developing a political conscience of her own as she begins to discover herself as a person.

Marla’s subsequent trip to England produces a new and intriguing twist to the story with an interesting preamble about her lifelong friend Josh, who had preceded her to London and now acts as host and guide for Marla and her girlfriends. The story soon turns to a tale of love when Marla literally bumps into Bertie, who becomes instantly besotted with her. His subsequent pursuit when Marla returns to South Africa thinking he was not interested is neatly contrived and, like the rest of this book, full of interesting twists and side stories that add colour and complexity to the tale.

Inevitably the truth of Emma’s and Marla’s origins has to come out at some stage and this begins on the dockside where Emma is awaiting her daughter’s arrival. As unaware of recent events in Marla’s life as her daughter is of her mother’s past, Emily is horrified to encounter her brother Jonas. Having become somewhat estranged from her family, she has no knowledge that he works in the Cape Town docks. He tells her that their mother is dying and wants to see her. Slowly the truth emerges and, after a visit to see her dying mother, Emma confesses to Marla, terrified of how she might react.

Bertie, well bred gentleman that he is, takes it all in his stride and still besotted, carries things off with perfect equanimity, as do his upper crust family who come out for the wedding.

To write any story involving the inter racial conflicts of South Africa would be difficult territory, but Jacob Singer has managed to contrive a very believable and charming story and to tell it in a way that keeps the reader gripped throughout. Whilst expressing no overt political bias himself, he puts a clear spotlight on injustice whilst showing up the Macchiavellian workings of the state which fosters and exploits it. At the same time he reveals with subtlety the counter currents working below the surface to correct the injustice wherever opportunity arises. 

An outsider with no knowledge of South African history or politics will find this book informative, disturbing and yet redemptive, whilst being entertained by a good story well told. Singer’s understanding of the racial problems and also of other forms of prejudice is deep and his compassion comes through clearly. The title, which seemed at the beginning to be rather irrelevant, becomes a beacon which endures to the end of the book. It symbolises so well the many facets, colours and contrasts of a nation actively evolving and struggling with the process as it does so.

The Vase With The Many Coloured Marbles is a very good book that deserves to be widely read.

The Vase with the Many Coloured Marbles, Book 1, Emma Book 2, Marla [Paperback]

Jacob Singer (Author), Lynn Thompson of Thompson Writing and Editing (Editor), David Crocker (Illustrator)

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