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Having never read a book by Rosie Thomas I was completely unsure as to what to expect. I was given this book as a Christmas present and I wouldn't have chosen it myself. I would now try every Rosie Thomas book if they're the same as this!!
This story centres around the lives to two generations of women from one family - grandmother and grandaughter. However, as virtual strangers neither knows how to react to the other. This book is about the discoveries of friendship, the frailties of family love and importance of knowing where you came from. In addition there is a healthy dose of culture too! Set in Egypt, this book describes perfectly the transitions between generations and as well as the cultural aspects of life in this region compared to the culture in England.
This story filts between present day, Ruby's life, Iris' life and the past. The transitions are almost seemless and the relevance of each story is intertwined beautifully creating a fabulous tale. There are a number of sub plots, of which none particularly over take the other, which come together to give a good moral message.
I learned a lot from this book. I enjoy History as a subject and I have studied war to a large amount but what I forgot was the effects of war outside Germany and England and this book provoked deep thought about people involved in the war (i.e. nurses and ordinary people). That being said I didn't feel I was ever being preached to. At times I was a little bit shocked and it did get a little harrowing.
Rosie and Iris is a beautifully entwined story which you will empathise with, which will shock you and which will leave you breathless.
I had read other works by Rosie Thomas in the past and had been disappointed with the experience, and thought I would give someone who is heralded as successful and certainly seems very popular another chance, and am very glad I did.
Iris and Ruby writes a very well woven story, and tells of the relationship between two ladies, both of different generations, interacting with each other to create a whole picture. Many writers have tried to do this and have failed, though the pages of this book take you on a very worthwhile journey, and one that can best be summed up by saying that it deals with two very human aspects, looking back in an attempt to remember the past, and looking forward and trying to find where you are going.
The characters of the book are so clearly described that you can imagine them, and the surroundings in which they meet, and the relationship that is formed between a grandmother (Iris) and her grand-daughter, Ruby. Most of the story is based in Cairo, and what adds to the texture of the written work is the ability of the author to conjure up pictures, little photographic vignettes that form in the readers mind as they travel through the written word.
Taking for example the detail that the author used in all the main players in the story, I had definite images in my minds eye of all the facets that made her characters leap from the page as real people. It is here that writers sometimes fail, and Rosie Thomas did an amazingly good job of description of not only the physical appearance of the characters, but the whole background that developed them into the images that I, as a reader, saw as worthy of merit.
I liked the characters, was warmed to them, and sensed the reality of their reality, both in difficult situations and both attempting to reach some kind of acceptance of who they were. Delving back into the past, Iris recalls her life, and much of the book is written from the point of view of Iris as the mainstay in the book. It works. It pulls the reader in, and you find yourself looking forward to the next episode in your reading experience. Interlacing the present and the past very neatly, the story comes together well, is not disjointed at all, and the recipe that makes this book so outstanding is the ability of the author to relate to relationships between generations, without unecessary padding, or over dramatised theatre such as I have found from other writers in the same genre.
Unlike in other books by the same author, where you had difficulty relating to the location of her story such as the one written about the Antarctic, this book does give you a definite feel for life in Cairo, how it was, balanced against how it is now, and the balancing act is very cleverly defined, because it shows Cairo not only from the point of view of the memories of Iris, but from the modern aspect too, by introducing the characters of Xan (Iris's past love), and Ash (Ruby's newfound friend). By introducing these characters, the writer opened the story into a full one which was not overcrowded with unecessary characterisation. What she achieved was a very balanced outlook upon the lives of two different cultures, and in many ways opening up the readers perspective. Weighing the point of view of the different backgrounds of the characters was indeed a journey in itself, and I particularly liked the development of the character of Ruby when faced with a whole different viewpoint of what is right and wrong in life presented by her newfound foreign friend. A trip to his family home opens up doors to Ruby, and I liked the way in which her line of thinking was developed by the experience of lives of the people from Cairo and their beliefs, as well as the historical discoveries that the child makes along the way.
Whilst there is much of history and lifestyle within the book, this doesn't impede the telling of the tale, although I found it refreshingly enhancing and enchanting to get a glimpse into another way of life, and certainly felt satisfied at the end of the read.
The age gap and the differences between three generations of mother, daughter, and grandmother is explored in depth, and here I found that the writers observations of her characters were realistic ones, introducing the idea of perspective, and how different people see different aspects of similar situations. It really does work. The romantic aspects of the book were insufficient to call the book a romance, although in a way, it's a story that goes beyond romance, and those that like a book with something more than just a tale between two people would really find this book a contrast to the flood of romantic fiction hitting the bookshops at the moment.
If you like a book with a little more depth than a love story, then this book is one that I shall be proud to own, and will certainly read again. It is also a book that opens up a different personal attitude towards this author's writing that would tempt me to try further books by her. A beautifully woven picture that was painted with words in a manner that tempts and teases the reader, and that concludes in a manner that leaves the reader thinking of the moral questions dealt with and the delicate way in which the writer succeeded.
Available for less than a fiver from Amazon, the book represents very good value for money.
Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Ltd (4 Sep 2006)
Rich and alive with descriptions of the bustling streets of old Cairo, and the vast, foreboding desert surrounding it - Iris and Ruby is a stirring story of mothers, daughters and the distance between three generations of one family. Stiflingly quiet and claustrophobic, Iris Black's Cairo house is suddenly disturbed by the unexpected arrival of her troubled and wilful granddaughter, Ruby. Teenage Ruby has run away from England to seek solace with the grandmother she hasn't seen for many years. An unlikely bond is formed as the two open themselves up to one another. Ruby helps Iris document her deteriorating memories of the glittering, cosmopolitan Cairo of World War Two, a time when she lost her heart to her one true love - the enigmatic Captain Xan Molyneux - and then lost him to the ravages of the war. Iris' early devastation shapes her own heart and that of her daughter and granddaughter in turn - and leads the two women into terrible danger in the Egyptian desert.