“In the traditions of Toni Morrison and Flannery O’Connor, Raymond Barfield presents a gorgeous and dismaying human tapestry from the edges of Southern society.…An ethereal story of poverty and redemption that ends with a phoenix-like flourish and abounds with grace.”
“Barfield’s The Book of Colors is a remarkable debut, a story told by a young woman whose nearly-perfect voice evokes Flannery O’Connor’s characters when they are simultaneously in a state of chaos and grace.”
—Wayne Caldwell, author of the Cataloochee novels
“Yslea’s world is small, but it embraces an immense universe of wonderments, bright emotions, slant thoughts and patterns that only she can discover. In The Book of Colors Raymond Barfield reveals a story like no other I have experienced, inexorably dark in circumstance but triumphantly luminous in spirit. ‘We are made up of pieces but somehow we feel whole.’ That wholeness is celebrated in these brave pages. They seized upon me like an angelic visitation. What a wonderful novel!”
—Fred Chappell, former North Carolina Poet Laureate
Yslea grew up in a crack house, a mixed-race girl who looks “sort of white to some black folks and sort of black to some whites.” She’s nineteen now and pregnant, having wandered from “the ladies shelter” into a cluster of rundown row houses that line the railroad tracks on the outskirts of Memphis.
Here she met Jimmy, who fathered the baby. Next door to Jimmy, the dying, elderly Rose, whom Yslea lovingly tends. Next door to Rose, Layla, who “services the bums” she brings off the tracks (Yslea has counted 87) while Layla’s daughter, Ambrosia, sits rocking all day, rereading her one ragged board book, The Book of Colors.
As constricted as Ambrosia’s mind is, Yslea’s mind roams freely—her own “book of colors,” which is the vast world of ideas, possibilities, connections and concerns. The growing fetus anchors her and, as we all do, Yslea uses external structures—a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle of Paris, a raccoon’s intricate skeleton she painstakingly reassembles, a stained glass window she creates for Rose—for comfort and solace and to hold her upright and steady in a chaotic world.
Ray Barfield is Associate Professor of Pediatrics and Christian Philosophy at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. He received his MD and his Ph.D (in philosophy) from Emory University. He is a pediatric oncologist with an interest in the intersection of medicine, philosophy, theology, and literature. Ray’s medical research has focused on immune therapies for childhood cancer (including bone marrow transplantation and antibody therapy), and improvements in the quality of life for children with severe or fatal diseases. His work in philosophy focuses on narrative approaches to philosophical issues that matter to suffering or dying people, otherwise known as "people." He recently published a book of poetry called Life In the Blind Spot, as well as a book of philosophy from Cambridge University Press called The Ancient Quarrel Between Poetry and Philosophy. His novel The Book of Colors will be published in Spring, 2015. Ray directs the Pediatric Quality of Life and Palliative Care Program for Duke Children’s Hospital, and was the founding director of Duke Divinity School initiatives in Theology, Medicine, and Culture.