Broken Colors by Michele Zackheim

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.)

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13 responses

  1. I really like that Anais Nin quote. What a pity you lost interest! I’ve been feeling that way about everything I try to read lately :\

    1. I love that quote too. Oops I spelt Anais wrong! I’ll fix it now. Yeah I couldn’t really decide if it was to do with the book or to do with me, because until then I was loving it. I had to put it down for a few days and I find that if I don’t read things fairly quickly I tend to lose interest in them.

  2. Great review! It still sounds a really interesting story. Sucks that you lost interest in the last part, perhaps it´s the pace of the 21st century catching up with you? 😉
    The quotes are beautiful. The first one actually reminds me of a Christie mystery, where a sculpturer is very much influenced by what the model tells her during the sitting.

    1. It probably is, I have a short attention span if I don’t finish things quickly!

  3. It sounds quite intriguing and I’ll definitely pick it if I see it at the library but I’m a little war-ed out, as terrible as that sounds.

    1. It isn’t too war-y if that makes sense, the war stuff is just at the beginning really but drives the action at the same time.

  4. The book looks really interesting! Thanks for writing about it. I loved the Anais Nin quote. I also loved the passage about Sophie painting. It reminded me of one of my favourite paintings called ‘On the way to the market on an autumn morning’ by Constant Troyon, which has the most beautiful depiction of an autumn morning that I have ever seen. I will have to add this book to my ‘TBR’ list 🙂

    1. I hope you enjoy the book when you read it. I tried to find a picture of the painting you mentioned but couldn’t, it sounds beautiful.

    2. Thanks for the link, it is a beautiful painting. 🙂

  5. I had a roommate once who was named after Anais Nin, and since then I’ve been curious about her writings!

    Partially more related to your review, I find it so fascinating how the lit of different countries discusses WWII. It’s so much more intimate in British lit, which makes sense.

  6. I own this book and I adore it. I reviewed it on my own blog awhile ago. One of those serendipitous finds at B&N. I’d read it again!

  7. […] REVIEWS:    Coffee Stained Pages gives a beautiful description (and less plot than I did) of this novel.   I’ll be watching for more on the Europa […]

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