How Grief Transmutes Through Colours-The Astonishing Color of After.
When I started reading Emily X. R. Pan's 'The Astonishing Color of After', immediately I knew that I would love it. It was the way in which Pan depicted Leigh's grief and journey to healing.
Leigh has synthestesia ((scientists call it a condition in which one sense (for example, hearing) is simultaneously perceived as if by one or more additional senses, such as sight. Another form of synesthesia joins objects such as letters, shapes, numbers or people's names with a sensory perception such as smell, color or flavor)); I prefer to think of it as a widening of an already present sense; as persons having a keener perception.
After Leigh loses her mother, she is visited by a beautiful red bird, that leaves a feather. Leigh is convinced that this bird is her mother, and the visits mean that she wants Leigh to find something. Upon receiving a mysterious box with effects that belong to her mother; Leigh and her father travel to Taiwan, where Leigh meets her maternal grandparents for the first time. Here Leigh is determined to understand why her mom left behind all she knew, never to return; and why in death, she wants Leigh there.
As Leigh sets out, following clues left by the bird and from what she understands from her grandmother, she begins to uncover trails of a life sold, a life broken, and a life changed.
Pan deals with mental health in such a gentle and respectful manner, that the story being told could belong to the reader or to someone they know. As we get to know Leigh and experience her grief through her extended sense, it becomes so clear; through the colors that manifest around each emotion and interaction, what she is going through. The colors that communicate her grief, anger, confusion, longing, attraction, lust, and love make the story all the more vivid to the reader.
What makes this story so enjoyable and relatable, is that Leigh is a typical teenage girl, experiencing jealousy and resentment: towards her best friend's relationship, Caro's loving and laid back relationship with her grandparents, Feng enjoying the closeness she missed out on with her own waipo and waigong; exploring and wanting to know more of that part of herself, the traditions, which her mother had denied; wanting to belong and carving out a place that is uniquely hers.
A story so exquisitely crafted, of a daughter trying to reckon what she missed; memories giving us insight to the fight that a mother fought until she could no longer hold on; a father who refuses to share his grief with his daughter, keeping it bottled; grandparents with superstitions, who do not quite understand the quest Leigh has set for herself; all brilliantly exposited under a rolling wave of colors.
Being from Jamaica, we grew up with stories of spirits/ghosts/duppies visiting loved ones; trying to pass on one last message, so they can finally rest in peace. Our very own mother has been visited by a brother, a sister, and a nephew. So, in reading a book where a mother visits her daughter from the afterlife, to pass on a story of a life that she should have shared while alive, is indeed one to which we can relate.
A book everyone should read.