Paula Paul's Colors of Truth
Colors of Truth is perfect for a Book Club read, winning 1st Place in its catergory in the Next Generation Indie Book Awards.
Four teenage girls confront hatred, corruptness, violence and death. Caroline Campbell and her younger sister Dotty are white and Christian. Pearlie Davis s black and Christian. And Anne Frank, a Jewish teenager during her years in hiding and in concentration camps, hovers at the edge, influencing the girls and the reader. Mr. Rabinowitz, Holocaust survivor and owner of "The Jew Store," the storekeeper/town’s conscience, is a support for the girls in this small Texas town in the 1950's. Paula told me, “I had Mr. Rabinowitz recommend Anne Frank’s diary to the girls because of the effect it had on me when I was young. I identified with Anne as a person and found it so difficult to live through her experiences with her.”
All of the characters of Colors of Truth have seen or experienced hate and violence. Paula Paul’s depiction of this is well written with a depth and elegance of writing that draws the us in and surprises us with its conclusion.
The multi-layered identities of the main characters are at the core: the identities are racial and religious, prejudiced and independent, fearful and courageous. The characters are perpetrators and victims, mired in the social context and language of the time, place and identity.
The language is the first aspect of this novel that is like freezing water splashed in the reader’s face. Seventy years have passed since the era of the novel, since that language was in common usage, author Paula Paul noted to me. Much has changed including laws, perceptions and language. Common pejorative references to blacks and Jews are only used in the far reaches of the Left and Right, shunned by most publicly, if not privately.
Teenagers Caroline, Dotty and Pearlie are the main points of view that Paula emphasizes in the rotating 3rd person narrations. “It’s just how things are,” is what most of the characters think about segregation, Jim Crow, poverty, hatred of Jews and Christian hypocrisy.
Dotty, Caroline’s feisty sister, shouts out her views, getting herself into trouble. Caroline slowly evolves from acceptance of her community’s “rules,” to a questioning and finally a standing up against injustice. Pearlie tries to assert herself, but as a black teenager girl in a bigoted town, she feels alone. Even when Dotty and Caroline try to befriend her, she is afraid, not unreasonably so.
The three girls begin to dialogue after Gershom Rabinowitz lends each The Diary of Anne Frank,
Interspersed with the annotations of his own life, the murder of his wife in the gas chamber and his two daughters in Auschwitz concentration camp, and his hand injury during forced labor, ending his career forever as a violinist. His mangled hand and the numbers tattooed on his arm are permanent reminders of his losses. He knows exactly what the ending of Anne Frank’s story was, although not included in her diary.
Anne’s fate makes the three girls think about their own lives, as well as the lives of a Jewish girl their own age. Caroline wants to change the world from these hatreds but doesn’t know how. At the same time, she wants to put the diary and its troubling events behind her. Ultimately, she cannot agree to what the local librarian told her about Mr. Rabinowitz, “He ought to get over it like the rest of us.” The life of Anne Frank reminds Caroline that most people remained silent in the years that led up to Auschwitz. Perhaps reading this girl’s diary is supposed to teach us how to behave in the face of oppression, she thinks, still struggling with her upbringing.
Caroline’s life changes when Pearlie’s father, Johnny Davis, is arrested after he learns that his daughter was raped by the bus driver who is assaulted. Although the evidence for the assault is circumstantial, the town divides into the majority who just want to string up Johnny and the few who believe in his innocence. After Caroline’s father, George Campbell pays his bail, Caroline breaks with her racist boyfriend; she is neutral no longer, and takes up with Hal Fitgerald, a more compassionate thinker than most in the town.
Caroline begins to hear the language of the town—the vile disparagement to and of blacks and Jews. She begins to use names, not use identities of race or religion. She is more troubled now, having less fun as she analyzes her town and its inhabitants.
Author Paula Paul gets into the head of all her characters no matter the race, religion or social beliefs. The dialogue drives the plot, mirroring the times, slowly shifting societal views. The plot is harsh, violent and poignant.
Hal reacts to Caroline’s cry about how blacks are treated in her town, when he compares the prejudice against the Jews to the prejudice against blacks. Caroline screeches out, “No it’s not!...I’m not interested in killing anyone or even hurtin them just because they’re different.”
Hal responds quietly, “I’m thinking it probably started that way…Then it turned to hate and then slaughter.”
At Yad VaShem, the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, the “Avenue of the Righteous Gentile,” was created to plant trees to honor those who saved Jews during the Holocaust. On each tree is written, “Whosoever saves a single life, saves an entire world.”
Paula writes of worlds saved and destroyed, in ways that her readers are not likely to forget.
Peach Cobbler is one of Texas' favorite desserts and was often served for special dinners as at the Campbell's home after church. Texans so love Peach Cobbler that it is one of the state’s official desserts.