THE SALT GOD’S DAUGHTER

Ilie Ruby

Set in Long Beach, California, beginning in the 1970s, The Salt God’s Daughter follows Ruthie and her older sister Dolly as they struggle for survival in a place governed by an enchanted ocean and exotic folklore. Guided by a mother ruled by magical, elaborately-told stories of the full moons, which she draws from The Old Farmer’s Almanac, the two girls are often homeless, often on their own, fiercely protective of each other, and unaware of how far they have drifted from traditional society as they carve a real life from their imagined stories.

The early death of their mother leads them to the Bethesda Home for Girls,

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Set in Long Beach, California, beginning in the 1970s, The Salt God’s Daughter follows Ruthie and her older sister Dolly as they struggle for survival in a place governed by an enchanted ocean and exotic folklore. Guided by a mother ruled by magical, elaborately-told stories of the full moons, which she draws from The Old Farmer’s Almanac, the two girls are often homeless, often on their own, fiercely protective of each other, and unaware of how far they have drifted from traditional society as they carve a real life from their imagined stories.

The early death of their mother leads them to the Bethesda Home for Girls, where they come of age, running wild at night in the search for belonging and love. After an unplanned pregnancy, Ruthie ends a short, abusive marriage and discovers the first real home she has ever known: Wild Acres, an old hotel on the beach amidst giant bougainvilleas, glowing tides, and the spirits of sea animals. There, she finds refuge in an affair with a mysterious fisherman. Ruthie’s daughter, Naida, is born into this magical landscape with an uncanny ability to swim and a secret she tries to keep hidden. Bullied by her peers, she finds solace in the ocean and embarks on the search for the father, who might know the true source of her gifts and her secrets.

Imbued with a traditional Scottish folktale and hints of Jewish mysticism, The Salt God’s Daughter examines the tremulous bonds between sisters and the enduring power of maternal love —a magical tale that presents three generations of extraordinary women who fight to transcend a world that is often hostile to those who are different.

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  • Soft Skull Press
  • Hardcover
  • September 2012
  • 352 Pages
  • 9781619020023

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$25.00

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About Ilie Ruby

Ilie Ruby grew up in Rochester, NY and lived in Long Beach, California, where she was a fifth grade teacher. She is the winner of the Edwin L. Moses Award for Fiction, chosen by T.C. Boyle; a Kerr Foundation Fiction Scholarship; and the Phi Kappa Phi Award for Creative Achievement in Fiction. She is also the winner of the Wesleyan Writer’s Conference Davidoff Scholarship in Nonfiction and the Kemp Award for Outstanding Teaching and Scholarship. She graduated from the Masters of Professional Writing Program at the University of Southern California where she held the position of fiction editor of The Southern California Anthology. A painter and a poet, Ilie Ruby is also the adoptive mother of three children from Ethiopia.

Praise

“…a lyrical, luxuriantly mystical meditation on being female. The Salt God’s Daughter is astonishing and unusual because selkies–mythical shape-shifting creatures who are human beings on land and seals in the water–are part of the story. In the otherworldly universe Ruby creates, the existence of selkies do not detract from the authenticity of the characters. Quite the opposite: the myth sharpens the characters’ humanity… Ruby’s novel comes as close as possible to achieving a deep understanding of the possibilities of being female.”Leora Tanebaum, The Huffington Post

“Ruby’s second novel (after The Language of Trees) imbues the complex relationships between mothers and daughters with legends and feminist mysticism . . . Ruby’s writing is elegant and insightful…”Publishers Weekly

“The book beautifully evokes scenes of two girls adrift in the late 70s and early 80s bohemian beach culture…the result is a breathtaking, fiercely feminine take on American magical realism. Ruby spins sweeping mythologies without straying far from the story of a young woman just trying to survive.”Interview Magazine

“Lushly woven with elements of folklore, Ruby’s novel is a captivating inquiry into the generational, wayward bonds of mothers and daughters.”Booklist

Discussion Questions

The Salt God’s Daughter is a re-imagining of a Scottish folktale about the selkies or (silkies), shape-shifting creatures who are a human beings on land and seals in the water. Before reading this novel were you familiar with the myth? In what way does the myth play out in the story? Which characters were selkie? At what point did you realize this?

Discuss Diana, Dr. B., Ruthie, Dolly and Naida. Which character did you most relate to?

What female rites of passage in the book did you find most evocative or troublesome?

In the beginning of the book, Ruthie senses the spirit of Naida. Do you think it’s possible to sense the presence of loved ones, especially those who have not been born?

In what ways did Ruthie’s relationship with her mother affect the way she parented Naida? How much is parenting influenced by what we have experienced or inherited?

Why does Naida have such a strong affinity for the three girls she sees in the ocean?

Do you agree with the statement that a mother is a daughter’s first love? Explain.

What do you think first drew Ruthie to Graham and why do you think she ultimately made the decision she did?

Ruthie and Dolly responded so differently to their upbringing. How do you explain the fact that two children raised in the exact same environment could be so different?

To what extent was the family supported or unsupported by society?

The novel follows Ruthie and Dolly from (mostly) the 1970s to the present day. In what ways did pop culture iconography (TV, popular movies, dolls, etc.) of different eras affect Ruthie and Dolly’s romantic expectations?

Discuss Ruthie’s relationship with Dr. B. and the residents of Wild Acres. Do you think it’s possible to create a “new” family with people who are not blood relatives?

The story contains hidden identities and reversals. Ruthie’s identity is revealed at the end of the novel. Did you expect this? And if so, at what point did you know the secret?

Many people wish to predict the future. Naida and Diana share the gift of prophecy. How does it affect their lives?

The story, at its heart, is about our desire to feel at home in the world. Discuss the different ways that Diana, Ruthie, and Naida are marginalized. Do you think they each found a place where they belonged? What does it mean to be home?

The novel has been called a “feminist folktale.” In what ways did you agree or disagree with this categorization?

The issue of bullying is present in the lives of two characters—Ruthie and Naida (though at different times). How do you think bullying has changed through the ages, or has it? Discuss what you know about bullying today.