Never in a million years did Sophia Raday, a liberal Berkeley graduate and peace activist expect to fall in love with a conservative West Point graduate who was a police officer/Army reservist, but that was exactly what happened to her. Sophia's cousin, another West Point man, gave her his friend Barrett's phone number on more than one occasion. Each time, she promptly ignored it, thinking that she could never have anything in common with a military guy, but when Barrett called her instead, Sophia couldn't resist his voice and the pull to meet with him just once. On their first blind date luncheon, Barrett surprised Sophia in more ways than one, and she found an unexpected ease in their conversation, a sense that she could simply be herself around this man. That one date turned into another, and another, until both found themselves hopelessly falling for one another in spite of their differences. Eventually, the newness of romantic loves wears off though, and the couple must find a way to translate their commitment to each other into peace and harmony in their relationship despite the troubled waters that separate their hopes, dreams and ideals. Just as they are beginning to find the common ground and understanding needed to build a strong lasting marriage, the terrorist attacks of 9/11 change everything. Sophia finds herself on a journey of personal discovery, as she and Barrett must learn to work together and find ways to compromise without sacrificing their individual beliefs and ideals.
A couple of years back, I remember reading an article online about a California couple, she, a liberal peace activist and he, a soldier in Iraq. I remember being both baffled and intrigued by such a dichotomous marriage. While I can no longer remember exactly where I read the article and cannot say with absolute certainty that it was about Sophia Raday and her husband, it doesn't seem likely that there would be that many couples out there who would fit such a profile. So, when I saw Love in Condition Yellow on the GoodReads First Reads program, I immediately knew I wanted to read it to learn more about this unusual relationship. Anyone who knows me well is quite aware that I'm a sucker for a great love story, and Love in Condition Yellow is definitely that. This book is certainly no grand, idealized fairy tale romance, but I have no qualms in saying that it is far better than most romance novels I've read. There is simply nothing that touches my heart more than a true story of someone who has found their soulmate. At it's core, Love in Condition Yellow is a story of unconditional love and acceptance, but it also delves much deeper than that. It is about one woman's journey to find a sense of self as an individual within a partnership, and perhaps even more importantly about the resolution of conflict in relationships, which is what builds a truly strong marriage. Coincidentally, many of the biggest issues that separate Sophia and Barrett are also the issues that tend to separate the citizens of our country, so there are many simple but powerful concepts that can be learned from their union which if more people were willing to implement, could revolutionize our nation and perhaps even the world.
In Love in Condition Yellow, Sophia Raday chronicles her and her husband's relationship from their first meeting in the '90s, through their dating years, and the early years of their marriage, all the way up until Barrett was deployed to Iraq in 2007. What instantly struck me is how ordinary this couple's struggles are. What marriage hasn't dealt with hurt feelings, divvying up of childcare and household responsibilities, job stress and perhaps the wife even feeling that her husband works too much, miscarriage, difficult family members or friends, and many other day to day problems? I have been through most of these things at some point in life myself, and so I couldn't help but relate to them in a very real and tangible way. What makes Sophia and Barrett different though are the extraordinary differences in their ideals and beliefs, and how they are still able to live with each other harmoniously and keep the peace in their household. The thing that Ms. Raday brings out so beautifully is their secret for this, which is a deep mutual respect for one another and most importantly, communication. Even though they argue like any other couple, Sophia and Barrett always find a way back to a place where they can communicate their true feelings, hopes, dreams and even doubts to one another in a non-hurtful and productive way. This in turn leads to them being able to appreciate each other's opinions even if they don't agree, which is truly impressive to me and has inspired me to expand upon these principles in my own marriage.
Like Ms. Raday, I too am an idealist who prides myself in being open-minded, but like she was when she met Barrett, I too have been challenged by her words as to just how open-minded I truly am. I realized while reading this book that I have a normal human tendency to dismiss the "other side" as being silly or unreasonable, when in reality they have reasons for what they believe just like I do. Through her story, Ms. Raday has encouraged me to look more closely for that middle ground of mutual respect. In my opinion, much of this concept has been lost not just in marriages, but in our everyday dealings with people in general. In my opinion, we certainly don't have to agree with someone in order to respect them as a fellow human being. As I read the book, I was constantly reminded of Al Gore's quote: "...that which unites us is greater than that which divides us." I have to say that Sophia and Barrett are a shining example of this principle in action.
Normally, I read non-fiction books at a much slower pace than fiction novels, because they can often be on the dry side and just usually don't engross me in the same way. That was certainly not the case with this book. I was immediately sucked in from the very first pages and could have easily devoured it in very short order if time had permitted. As it was, I finished it in only four days which is quite fast for a slow reader like me. Ms. Raday's slice of life snippets all flowed together like the current of a gentle stream to create a complete and compelling story. She writes in a very easy conversational style that made me feel like I was sitting down to have tea and talk with an old friend. I may have picked up Love in Condition Yellow hoping for a good romantic read, and I certainly got a truly beautiful and satisfying love story. Much more importantly though, I turned the final page with the sense that I had just read a profoundly thought-provoking book that I will likely be pondering for a long time to come. Needless to say, I was completely enthralled by Ms. Raday's writing style and incredibly impressed with this debut book which has already found a spot on my keeper shelf. I don't know if she has more books in the works, but I certainly hope so. If she does publish another, I will happily be the first in line to read it.
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