Jakob’s Colours, by Lindsay Hawdon, tells the story of an eight year old gypsy boy who is on the run from the Nazis in the final years of the Second World War. It is heartbreaking.
Based on the true but often unremarked history of the Romany holocaust it moves between three decades, each as horrific as the next. Jakob’s mother was born to a wealthy, English couple but endured unspeakable abuse in the name of a ‘cure’ for a madness that did not exist. Jakob’s father was forcibly removed from his loving, gypsy parents when the state decided that the only solution to the problem of vagrancy was to ‘re-educate’ the children.
In these days of increasing xenophobia it was a difficult book to read. It left me feeling an empty despair for mankind, that this should have happened and is still happening in so many countries around the world; that man should ever find any justification for treating their fellow human beings in this way. The fear of difference, the intolerance of a lifestyle that does not conform to state sanctioned normality remains strong. Propaganda is believed and those who are different dehumanised.
The book is beautifully written, evocative and rich in its portrayal of the natural harmony by which the gypsies tried to live. Alongside the horror were individual acts of kindness and personal bravery. There remain good people despite so much accepted evil.
I was particularly moved by the scene where Jakob’s mother and father first got together and declared themselves husband and wife. This family, who struggled so hard to survive, emanated strength and love amid the pathos of their lives.
A powerful and unusual book that I want to put in front of everyone who has ever felt justified in encouraging dislike of a race or class of people. Reading this book hurt. It is harrowing but ultimately hopeful, a tale filled with colour and wonder that rise above the oppression. Read. Listen to your heart.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Hodder and Stoughton.