Monday, October 13, 2014

Book Review: Ruth's Journey: the Authorized Novel of Mammy from Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind by Daniel McCaig

Published by: Atria Books
Published on: October 14, 2014
Page Count: 384
Genre: Historical fiction
My Reading Format: ARC ebook for Kindle provided by NetGalley
Available Formats: Hardcover, Kindle ebook, Audible book

My Review:

This is the life story of Ruth, better known as Mammy, in Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind. We are first introduced to Ruth when she is a small child in Saint Domingue (modern-day Haiti) during the unrest of the 1820s. Ruth is owned by Solange Escarlette Fornier, the wife of a weathly planter and army captain named Augustin. Like her granddaughter Scarlett is described, Solange is not beautiful but is green-eyed and striking. She longs for the exciting life she left behind in Normandy. Ruth comes into Solange's possession and is an agreeable and self-sufficient child. The three leave for Savannah and Augustin joins the American army. Soon they are immersed in the social life of this busy, diverse city, and Solange is determined to improve the family's social status. 

I liked all the similarities between Solange and Scarlett. It was fun to get to know Scarlett's grandmother and much more about her past. I liked learning about Ruth's life outside of her time with the three generations of Scarlett's family. Getting a window in on her own personal journeys and heartaches was interesting and made her a more well-rounded character to me across both novels. I also particularly liked getting the back story on on how Scarlett's parents, Gerald and Ellen end up together. 

The narrative point of view changes mid-way through the novel. It begins in the third person, giving us an objective perspective on Solange, Augustin and Ruth. However, Ruth becomes first person narrator later in the book. I enjoyed the well-written, authentic voice of Ruth as an adult and all her opinions on the bustling O'Hara household. I wish McCaig would have told the story in Ruth's voice all along. I think I would have enjoyed Ruth's childlike observations of Solange and the events of her life. The first part of the book would have seemed more personal, and readers would feel, I think, closer to her innermost thoughts and feelings by hearing them from her first-hand. The two points of view are a little jarring. Ruth's first person account is authentic while the third person feels aloof and removed from the action. However, the first time Ruth sounds like the Mammy from Gone With the Wind is more than halfway through the novel. I wish she would have found her voice earlier. 

Also, this isn't just the story of Mammy. Much of the book turns away from Mammy in favor of Solange, enough to make me wonder when we were going to get back on track. In fact, Ruth disappears from the story for a time and we know not as much as I'd like to about where she is and what she's doing. It's during this time that Solange takes center stage. When Ruth comes back, her dialect is different, perhaps because she is an older, more self-assured woman, but it was hard to make sense of.

Don't go into this with false expectations, but do enjoy it for its perspective from one of the novel's most powerful characters. Authorized or not, Gone With the Wind is a tough act to follow. I'm not sure any writer, no matter how talented, will ever be able to write the perfect sequel or prequel to this book. That said, I liked some parts of McCaig's book, while other parts of it didn't quite come together.

Two and a half stars out of five
If you liked this book, you’ll like Rhett Butler's People by Daniel McCaig and (obviously!) Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

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