In Broken Colors Michele Zackheim tracks the life of Sophie Marks, a fictional English painter. The novel begins with Sophie’s childhood, spent with her bohemian grandparents; one a poet and the other a painter. Their existence during this time is idyllic and filled with colour, poetry and nature. But before long World War II breaks and a tragedy befalls the Marks family that Sophie will spend the rest of her life struggling to live with.
Zackheim paints a rich story that deals with love, death and grief with complexity and in vivid, emotional prose. While Sophie’s story is at times horrific, Zackheim’s writing is so expert and so beautiful that the novel is moving without being overwhelmingly depressing.
Some of my favourite passages:
“She began to hire models. Like her grandfather, Sophie was interested not in pretty people, but in people with the world in their eyes. After the war they were certainly easy enough to find: in soup kitchens, sleeping in doorways, sweeping the streets… She was moved to paint the moisture that was pooling at the corners of an old woman’s hungry mouth. She painted the expressive fear in a man’s eyes, using a modeled black, with highlights of zinc white; she painted the benevolence that a charwoman was revealing toward an unfair world, not using black at all, but instead a burnt sienna to tone down the emotion. They spoke to her while she painted. Their stories, their opinions, their dreams – all helped Sophie construct their portraits.”
“There came a time when the risk to remain tight in the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” (Quoting Anais Nin.)