The Book of Colors
A novel that reads more like a collection of poetry, Book of Colors by Raymond Barfield is part philosophy, part tragedy, and part allegory. Packed with life lessons and the symbols that depict them, this debut novel, at first seemingly a collection of random thoughts, is everyone’s life story.
Young Yslea, having stumbled randomly across a small group of people in a poor neighborhood in Memphis, soon finds purpose remaining among them. Her life quickly becomes interwoven with this unique cast of characters, and she is suddenly as dependent on them as they are on her. Birth, life, death, and everything in between are the topics of Yslea’s “brain chatter,” and she begins to realize that life’s true lessons are those lived outside the classroom and outside her head.
As with poetry, symbols are important to the telling of this story. Ants traveling in zig-zag lines, following each other in precise pattern though not directly connected, become a metaphor for life and how one small thing enables other events to fall into place. The magazines that Yslea reads to learn about the world become symbolic of the superficial world outside of her own experience, a world that she would never have any personal knowledge of and really didn’t need to anyway. And, the stained-glass window Yslea decides to make for her friend Rose aptly mirrors the colorful piecing together of the events of life, in seemingly random fashion.
Life lessons are shared in abundance throughout the narrative. We learn the importance of picking and choosing what we worry about in life, especially as we get older. We learn to pay attention and see the good in life’s unfoldings and to seize opportunities whenever we can. And, we learn that life is lived, not in the midst of philosophical musings, but in the day-to-day practical details, no matter how mundane they may seem.
We should all be as wise and faithful as Yslea, an exceptionally strong young woman who has given herself over to the great mysteries of the universe, as she tirelessly adds additional pieces to the unique stained-glass window that is her life. Raymond Barfield, in Book of Colors, reminds us that what is most important in life is for each of us to continue to faithfully piece together our own stained-glass windows.