Author: Belinda Alexandra
Southern Ruby is compelling, sensual and captivating. I love New Orleans, I love the history and I love that it is the birthplace of Anne Rice’s Louis de Pointe du Lac and a host of other dark and gothic characters, not to mention magnificent musicians. There is a mysticism and a magic about New Orleans, a romanticism even but I think that’s more from the exposure I have had to the state than anything else. Much of my knowledge of the state comes from fiction but Belinda Alexandra has woven a lot of the history into her story, and a lot of the more recent reality.
Orphaned as a toddler and now in her mid-twenties suffering the loss of the grandmother who raised her Amanda discovers a link to family she never knew. Feeling lost and adrift in Sydney without her beloved Nan Amanda flies out to New Orleans to meet the rest of her family.
Growing up with just her Nan, who couldn’t bear even the mention of her father, Amanda has always felt a little alone; never quite belonging because there was one whole half of her heritage missing. Amanda is hoping that her trip to New Orleans will fill in some of those gaps.
Alexandra has written of New Orleans in a way that evokes the passion and sensuality of the state, the humidity, the music and the laid back pace of the aging city and its glorious historic buildings. The French Quarter, The Garden District, the newer suburbs and the poorer districts; all are intricately detailed both in the present and the past.
Amanda finds herself welcomed into a family who have always loved her, though she knew nothing about them. She is overwhelmed by a sense of family and a homecoming, as she was born in New Orleans and went back to Australia after her parents death. An entire life lived with nothing of her father and now she’s surrounded by his family, his childhood and his career.
Amanda’s grandmother is a fascinating older lady, Ruby, with a heart full of love, memories and secrets. Now that she has her grand-daughter back she feels it’s time to start letting go of some of those secrets by passing them on to Amanda so that her story doesn’t die out with her.
Ruby’s tale is rich with the history of New Orleans in the 1950s, a time when desegregation was beginning and emotions ran high. A time when a classy young French Creole woman’s only ambition should be marrying well; reputation was to be protected because that could be the only thing to save you if the family was to find themselves in more difficult times.
Ruby was a strong young woman who found her fortunes changed by the men who were supposed to look after the family, instead of protecting the family fortune one after the other they dwindled it away until Ruby is left pawning the furnishings to take care of her mother, who is a traditional Creole believing that a woman’s place is in the home. Forced to look for work Ruby has to hide it from her mother who would never allow it, even if it is their only way to survive.
I loved Ruby, she is strong and independent and years before her time. She is willing to risk everything for her family and go against the expectations of her society and her class.
Southern Ruby is a book that tackles the issues of racism, desegregation and prejudice; both in the 1950s and the present day.
Amanda’s trip to New Orleans happens in the lead up to Hurricane Katrina, and the aftermath. I remember seeing bits of the news coverage but never really totally understood the scale. Alexandra takes us inside the devastation that is Hurricane Katrina with a birds eye view and it is absolutely eye-opening for someone who has never had to be concerned about hurricanes before.
Alexandra illustrates the changes that still need to happen in society that are starkly demonstrated in the wake of a disaster of this magnitude.
Southern Ruby is a fascinating read from an historical, cultural and musical point of view. It has romance, it has suspense and it highlights important moments in the history of New Orleans. I am so glad to have read it, and to have been introduced to the writing of Belinda Alexandra.
Southern Ruby is book #42 for the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge 2016.