Book Review: Hidden Colours by Nillu Nasser

Each evening, nestled in Berlin’s Treptower Park, the immigrant circus comes to life.

When Yusuf fled Syria, he lost everything. Now the circus, with its middle-eastern flair, is the only home he knows. When the lights go on, the refugees dazzle their audience, but off-stage tensions flare.

Ellie is passionate about the circus and drawn to its broken people. Even so, if she wants to keep her job at the newspaper, she must head up a campaign against it.

One night, in the midst of a show, two young circus boys come to blows. With the circus at risk of closure, Ellie must convince her readers that we can have compassion for those we fear, or Yusuf will be forced to uproot again.

There’s something magical about stories set in a circus, isn’t there? The lights, the big top, the feeling that everyone watching the show is being whisked into a world of endless possibility. I have never felt the slightest desire to go to a real circus (too many clowns for my liking) but I will read and watch everything I can get my hands on about a fictional circus. Found family is one my absolute favourite tropes to read about, and the bond of a found family in the world of the circus is one of the strongest.

The circus in Hidden Colours lives in contemporary Berlin, part of an integration project set up so that the people of Berlin hopefully become more welcoming to the refugees seeking a new life in their city. It’s not going well.

Yusuf, who fled Syria and has become second in command at the circus, believes in the power of the circus and the spectacle that they create each night for their audience, even while others in the show are more sceptical.

Ellie is a young German reporter, sent to report on the crime rates and to link it to the circus by any means necessary. The only trouble is, Ellie loves the circus, and wants to uncover the humanity behind the people there, the truth behind the fearmongering.

When a tragic moment between two young circus performers threatens to destroy the precarious life that the performers have built there, Yusuf and Ellie seem to be the only people who might be able to save the circus and its people.

I really liked the way this was written, contrasting the warmth and wonder of the circus with the horrors they left behind, and layering in reporter Ellie’s story and that of the minister who set up the circus project in the first place and now needs to decide whether to keep backing it or jettison it in favour of his career.

A beautifully told story combining the wonder of the circus with the horror of fleeing a war zone, only to find yourself unwanted in the country you’re trying to make a new home in.

Lucinda x

If you liked this, you’ll like The Lido by Libby Page.

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