Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Ruby - by Cynthia Bond: Book Review

I stumbled upon Cynthia Bond's Ruby via Oprah's 2.0 book club. I expected it to be a good book since I knew the previously chosen books for her book club were good ones. 

I have read little African American literature over the years. OK, I have read The Color Purple. Yes, little knowledge. Ruby surprised me in a very good way. 
{spoilers ahead!}
It tells one woman's story from the time she was 6 years old until she was in her 30s. The story is not linear, but goes back and forth between present and past. As all good books, it tells not just the main character's story (that would be Ruby), but also of those who influenced her life in a way. Those back-in-the-past stories where you find more about the characters are my favorite part. I liked how the author made the transition from telling about some event in the present to gradually immersing in one character's past. I have always been a curious reader, wanting to know how a character got to be the way s/he is at the moment of the story, so this was perfect. I didn't know at first how all the characters connected, I just figured they were all part of Ruby's life and carried on.

It was lovely to see the love story that was knitted between Ephram and Ruby. There are a lot of dark souls in this novel, but above them all the author tried to create a love story that stayed above all the bad things, or maybe in spite of them all. Ephram listened to Ruby and tended to her, allowing her to open her hear to him: The truth was that Ruby had stories decades old that she had folded up and tucked away between her spine and her heart, tears she had shed in silence, private moments of pride. The truth was that she wanted to share the burden

However, in the end, it wasn't this that mattered above all. Despite Ephram's love for Ruby, her desire for change didn't go deep enough. It had to come - cliché enough - from within her. In an interview with the author, I heard her say that what she hoped to accomplish with this book was to show that everything can be healed. This was plainly stated in the end by Ruby's decision to shed off the crust of evil that was created around her but others in her life, but this new Ruby was seen merely for a glimpse before I reached The End. I have seen Ruby playing her beauty card, her sexuality card, her commodity card, but we didn't see enough of the reborn Ruby. It is nicely summed up in this phrase: "For the first time in eleven years, that future woman held interest for her [Ruby] as well."

The promise of something different left the reader in good spirits; yes, curious, but in good spirits, something that I desperately needed after so much evil and darkness. At some points while reading I had strong reticence about whether such horrible things really happened. Then I heard the author mention her aunt's death, an event that triggered this story, as well as the horrific deeds against the blacks in the South over the years. It was a rather unpleasant moment to reach passages that described the coming and going of the Dybou (we like to call it the Devil), the intensified presence of haints (a kind of ghost, or a spirit that torments a person), or tarrents (spirits of murdered children). It's tempting to just close the book and admit defeat. But there is so nice to reach the end and see how all things connected and it all makes sense.

Ruby sure is something else. For an unexpected reader (like me) it's not unexpected to say "Crazy!" multiple times throughout the book. But the way the author uses words - delight! - and the new meaning she gives to a crow - all worth it.

4.5stars, but as the time passes they turn into 5stars.

I received an ebook copy of this book via Blogging for Books program. All thoughts expressed here are my own.

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