15 February 2012

February 8th, 2012

Rating: 4/5

The late 1950s saw a lot of changes in society but they were late in coming to Ruth's home in the Owen Stanley range in Papua New Guinea. Ruth, the only daughter of plantation owner John Madison, was still in her late teens and away at boarding school for much of the year, but when she returned home one of the first people she wanted to see was her great friend Tommy. They'd grown up together but there was no possibility of the relationship being taken any further as Tommy - despite being light skinned - was the son of one of the black plantation workers and certain 'standards' were expected of Ruth.

Once back at boarding school in Sydney Ruth finds herself in disgrace and forced into a hard, menial job and denied any contact with her family. For years her life will revolve around earning enough money - without descending into poverty or prostitution - to maintain herself and her son. Even when it looks as though life might be working out for her fate has tragedy in store for her and the world she left behind in Papua is collapsing for the natives and the family she left behind. When Ruth returns home she's shocked by what she finds - and devastated by the family secrets which had been hidden all these years.

When I began reading Ruth I wondered if was going to be another reworking of the 'girl from a good family goes bad and then makes good again' storyline but I was pleasantly surprised by the extent to which I was transported to the Australian outback or the Papuan plantation. Marlene Lewis has the talent of an experienced travel writer when it comes to evoking these parts of the world which will always be on the verge of being reclaimed by the wild. She's less strong on cities but this, in turn, is more than balanced by her ability to bring the fifties and sixties to life. Ruth's naivete as a teenager would stun today's equivalent - but Lewis has it just right. The issues which the world was facing - civil rights and the women's movement are woven deftly into the storyline.

Ruth pulled me into the book. She's determined, completely lacking in self-pity and she lives in the mind long after you've finished the book. Some of the lesser characters don't come off the page quite so strongly and I did struggle with one or two to distinguish them one from the other. It's a minor quibble though in an otherwise very good read and I'd like to thank the author for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

Sue Magee, the Bookbag

Review by Aloi, January 21, 2012 - Guiltless Reading  http://guiltlessreading.blogspot.com/2012/01/ruth-by-marlene-lewis.html

Ruth by Marlene Lewis

We are the product of our times.

The book in one sentence: Ruth faces trial and tribulation while discovering the truth about herself and her family in Papua New Guinea.

My thoughts: This is inspiring, is historical, and it hits home. Ruth  by Marlene S. Lewis is a story is about an Australian woman who grew up in Papua New Guinea in the 1950-60s. It is a life story - of hardship and struggle - steeped in an era of stormy civil rights clashes and colonialism.

Ruth is the only daughter of coffee plantation owners John and Alice Madison. Coming home to the Owen Stanley Ranges in Papua New Guinea after a term in boarding school, she puzzles over why everyone is acting so strange. Until she witnesses her mother thus:

"Looks like the rain's going to set in," Bert said, as they glanced out through the trellis to watch the heavy downpour bucketing over the outbuildings. 

"Oh my goodness, who on earth is that?" Myrtle said as her hand swept to her mouth. "Oh heavens above, it's a white woman with no clo..." 

Everyone stared in horror. There was Alice, sitting on an oil drum in the pouring rain.

And with that dramatic ending on page 32, Marlene Lewis had me up until 2:00 am!

The whole book is about Ruth from young woman to adulthood. We follow her from one calamity to another - innocent young girl, pregnant young woman forced to deal with hardships way beyond her years, settling down, and finally reinventing herself. I thought that the story would end there but no, there is more. Believe me, what this woman went through is nothing to scoff at.

Ruth is a tough woman, reminiscent of the pioneer women, and anything life throws at her, she deals with and moves on. But she doesn’t escape unscathed, and she retains an emotional vulnerability that I am sure many people can relate to. In the midst of all these trials, Ruth relies heavily on her family and her friendships. Marlene Lewis does a wonderful job of keeping Ruth and her relationships both believable and inspiring.

What I found most fascinating about this book: it is based on the history of Papua New Guinea, a country that has a colonial past - under the Dutch, the British, and the Australians (during which this story is set in, in the 1950s-60s). This makes for the rich, and rather explosive dynamics between the locals and the colonizers. There is the master-servant attitude with abuse commonplace, accepted, and even taken for the norm; an unspoken segregation and discrimination; a taboo of relationships between these two groups; and lastly the conflicting views of either resignedness to or challenging the status quo. {Sidenote: I grew up in the Philippines which also has a strong colonial past and the similarities resonate with me.}

Ruth's naive picture of her idyllic life in Papua New Guinea is painfully shattered. Without giving out too much information and spoiling things for you: the milieu plays such a critical role in these truths; it permeates these truths. She finds out why her mother was acting so strangely that day, the events that led to her father's suspicious death, the reasons for her brother's longstanding hostility, and the true identity of her beloved childhood sweetheart. I was in probably in shock mode for the most part, as I was learning history in a much more realistic way through these characters' lives. 

First line: Friday 14th December 1956 had arrived at last.

Random quote: "You know, Ruthy, Christmas can be one of the saddest times as you get older. We lose people along the way of life, people who have been special to us; then Christmas comes and they aren't with us, and it's like losing them all over again." - p. 237

Verdict: This is an engrossing read which gives plenty of food for thought about womanhood, family relationships and friendships, and the cultures which shapes us into the people we become and the lives we live.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Through the laughter, the tears and the totally heart wrenching moments throughout this story I was engrossed in this story. What a story it is... as a young woman strives to make a good life for her children and meets with all the trials and tribulations that entails. This one was hard to put down and unfortunately I received it during the holiday season when I absolutely had to put it down. An awesome story told by an author who truly feels the characters she writes about. I definitely look forward to more from Marlene S. Lewis.
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tinasnyderrn | Jan 9, 2012 |

October 26, 2011 Bookpleasures.com

At 327 pages Ruth would be too long were it merely a love story with an interesting twist. However, this story of a young woman from her first sexual awakening to a new beginning in middle age is also the story of colonial racism in Australia in the fifties and the consequences of this racism that are passed on from one generation to the next. In addition to this major theme there are sub themes of classicism and sexism that come up in the stories of subsidiary characters Ruth encounters on her journey. 

I’ve been known to say that while non-fiction makes us aware of social problems, fiction has more power to make us care about social problems. I should amend that to say that it is the stories of individuals more than statistics that create empathy and a passion to change what is wrong in our societies. So whether a story is fictional or real is not the issue here but whether it is compelling enough to inspire readers to want to do something about the injustices of racism, classicism, sexism as we recognize them around us in addition to helping us recognize them in the first place.

In Ruth, Marlene S. Lewis tells a fictional story that feels absolutely real and as a reader I feel like I could hear the voices of Ruth, Lindsay, Tommy, Joyce, Aggie, Stephanie, Ali, Lachlan, Josh and others as if I’d known them. The author has mastered the craft of creating  characters with the particular idiosyncracies that make them believable individuals, each and every one. She makes us know them, care about them, hear and respond to what they have to say. There is the usual disclaimer at the beginning that the book is a work of fiction and any resemblance of the characters to real people is purely coincidental. I would add that such resemblance is due to the author’s gifts of observation and insight. The style is matter of fact. Because the facts themselves are dramatic the author has no need to overdramatize events, she simply tells them and we are moved, sometimes shocked, at the simple recitation of the realistically imagined facts.

Because the book depicts so many realistic instances of important universal social issues, Ruth is a book I highly recommend to bookclubs who are looking for spirited discussion of the social dynamics that affect us all, everywhere at some time and all the time somewhere.


Sandra Shwayder Sanchez, Bookpleasures.com
Oct 22, 2011
Caz Ward rated it 5 of 5 stars
I really enjoyed this book. It has plenty of twists and turns, making it hard to put down.
The main character goes through a huge amount, which could be a little too much to be believable but somehow this book makes it work.
The characters are well developed and as a result are as likable or as off-putting as they need to be for the part they play in the story.
Well worth a read.
Sep 08, 2011
Jessica rated it 4 of 5 stars
I wasnt sure about this book at first. There were a few graphic parts in the beginning that I didnt like. After that, it got really good. An interesting story about a women who goes through ALOT in her life. Just when you think things cant get any worse for her, they do. This book shows her struggles and determination, which I really like. I like a book about a strong, independent, 'never give up', kind of girl. I enjoyed this book. Thanks Goodreads, for choosing me as a winner of this book!
aloi (guiltlessreader) rated it 4 of 5 stars
I just finished this. Couldn't put it down! It's a combination of family saga and historical fiction with the same feeling that I got from the Poisonwood Bible! Wow!
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