When choosing book club books it is always easier to find books that other people have deemed suitable; one such person is Oprah. I have never read one of her book club books before but if Oprah says we should read it then by all means lets read it. Ruby by Cynthia Bond was a very intense book; the topics covered are among the heaviest, and most talked about: race, sexism, rape, religion, and love – to name a few. Packing such heavy topics into one book must have been a feat, but Bond was able to do it with grace and conviction.
To discuss the book we used the questions at the back of the book that are meant to start conversations. The hardest part is remembering the whole book, which makes conversation with others more beneficial when you forgot about a part or two in the book. The best way would be to keep notes, or answer question along the way, but for me that seems too much like school. Either way, the book opened up great discussion about how the past affects the future, how people handle different situations, how religion played a part, etc.
One of the first questions for discussion asked what the novel shows us about the nature of trauma and the power of compassion (yes all the questions for discussion were deep). As an overarching theme in the book, the power of trauma is met with the power of compassionate; the tug of war consistently being fought mostly through the interactions of Ruby and Ephram. It is very clear that past trauma has a major effect on each character’s future. Each one had suffered through a hardship, Ruby being the most detailed, and how each one reacted to it later in life. Ruby lost her mind to the traumatic life that she had endured since a little girl, but with the help of Ephram’s unconditional compassion she was able to fight her past and she the value in herself for the first time.
Southern spiritual beliefs were woven in and out of the story, eventually tying the whole thing together. The Dybou is portrayed as the devil until we later learn that it is actually the spirit of the Reverend who is the first to spiritually tie Ruby to himself in the first pit fire she is forced to attend. The question posed in the discussion is “Do you believe that evil comes from the supernatural or spiritual, or that it is simply part of human nature?” My limited belief in supernatural and spiritual leads me to believe it is part of human nature; which makes more sense when we learn it is not the devil as a spirit but a man in the form of a spirit. The way that the Dybou can inhabit a live man’s body, demonstrates that evil is already within people. We see it again when the Dybou is in Ruby, they bond over hate; the evil was already in Ruby, but just more recognized when the Dybou could latch onto it. This reminded me of Chinese philosophy and the argument of Mencius vs Hsun Tzu. The former believing humans are born good and learn evil, and the latter that human’s are born evil and choose good.
There are many more discussion questions, that led to great discussions but I will not keep going on about it here. This is a great book club book (obviously Oprah knows best). I highly suggest it, and to go through the discussion questions at the end of the book.
My favourite part of the book was the tie in with the angel food cake that Ephram finally shares with Ruby at the end of the story. It’s Celia’s passion for the cake baking process, and the meaning behind the love and tenderness of the cake. Around town its talked about as a prized possession, and it is what Ephram decides to bring to Ruby when he feels she needs it the most. It takes a few tries, but Ephram is finally able to present her with an angel cake. It represents the compassion that Ephram has, and the purity of his love and intentions. The story finishes with such a good quote, that connected the angel cake from beginning to end:
“She turned to her children. She had so much to teach them. To stand. To fight. To believe in rising. She would tech them. She would teach herself. She felt her heart beating steady in her chest. She could give each of them this knowing. She would give it to them like angel cake.”
The book also has a recipe for angel cake in the back. It seemed very complicated to me so I chose to make one from my favourite cookbook, Basic Baking by Evelyn Raab. Click here to see the recipe!
The next book I will be reading the for June is Wild by Cheryl Strayed.