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The Salt God's Daughter

The Salt God's Daughter

4.2 4
by Ilie Ruby

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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


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.

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.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Ruby’s second novel (after The Language of Trees) imbues the complex relationships between mothers and daughters with legends and feminist mysticism to create a confusing family history dotted with magical realism. Ruthie and Dolly’s mother, Diana, is dramatic and unreliable, part Pied Piper, part con artist. The family drifts (both girls’ fathers are absent and unexplained), but Diana finds herself drawn to Long Beach, Calif., where she’s a housekeeper at a motel and watches the omnipresent sea lions. There, the girls find a settled life until alcoholism and depression hasten their mother’s death and they move into the care of nuns at a home for teenage girls. The nuns are both overwhelmed by the worldly life of their charges and caring stewards of womanhood. As a young woman, with one brief marriage already behind her, Ruthie moves back to work at the motel, now a nursing home, where she falls in love with a mysterious fisherman she calls “the Salt God.” Family secrets and otherworldly powers slowly unfold until all is explained. Though Ruby’s writing is elegant and insightful, particularly in revealing the ways in which the mother-daughter bond can end in disappointment, the long time line and haphazard mythologies muddle the tale. Agent: Sally Wofford-Girand, Brick House. (Sept.)
From the Publisher

Praise for The Salt God's Daughter

“…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

“This is a bewitching tale of lives entangled in lushly layered fables of the moon and sea.” —Kirkus Reviews

“The characters and the setting hunger for each other …the ocean is everywhere, its saltiness fills the pages, lingers on the characters… Lovely in its complexity, Ruby has written in many layers. Yes, her book is mystical and fanciful, but at the same time it is intensely raw, and often unsettling.” —Bookslut

“Certainly other readers have had this experience: you discover a book that is thrilling in its truth about the world, a book that captures your imagination so completely that you actually feel scared by the thought you might have never held this book in your hands; that you might have missed it completely. Ilie Ruby’s The Salt God’s Daughter is that kind of book.” —Stacy Bierlein, The Rumpus

“Three generations of indelibly original women wrestle with the confines of their lives against a shimmering backdrop of magic, folklore, and deep-buried secrets. About the bonds of sisters, mothers, and daughters, and the refusal to accept limits, this is a story as heartbreaking, gritty, magical, and real as a waking dream, with a sense of place so immediate, you can feel the ocean’s salt spray. To say I loved this book is an understatement.” —Caroline Leavitt, New York Times bestselling author of Pictures of You

“Open The Salt God's Daughter and it is as if you are walking through a door, where things are at once utterly recognizable and utterly mysterious, like life, and like an ancient fairy tale, or a myth from a lost continent, another time and place. Ilie Ruby offers up a story that is both exquisitely fantastical at the same time that it maintains the feel of unblinking realism. This one's a story in which to lose one's self in the best possible way.” —Joyce Maynard

“Magical and gripping, The Salt God's Daughter captivated me from the very first sentence and has stayed with me long after I finished reading. A lyrical exploration of the timeless search for belonging and the complicated bonds between mothers, daughters and sisters, I devoured the novel in one sitting and then immediately ordered copies for my own mother and sister." —Jillian Cantor, author of The Transformation of Things

“Propulsive, mythic, and rhythmically mastered....a singular, knock-out work of fiction about love and the evolution of identity." —James Ragan

"What a rare pleasure this novel is, a kind of embarrassment of riches, Ilie Ruby has given us a work glowing with the emotive illuminations of two sisters, caught in exile, in homelessness, in a parentless subculture which they both survive by the pure transcendent powers of their personal fantasy-life and myth. The bond of sisterhood prevails. I cannot recommend this passionate look at family and society and outcast-ness enough. To be a part of their journey is to look at our own travels through deprivation, rejection, poverty and find their quiet ultimate triumph, to feel their fulfillment, as if it were our own. I look forward to what this talented writer offers us next!" —Leora Skolkin-Smith author of Hysteria

"Ruby's book is an eloquent unfolding of language brilliantly crafted. The Salt God's Daughter is beautiful writing of life, love, relationships between mother and daughter, families of one's own making, and the push/pull of the moon on the course of relationships. Lovely!"-Katherine Pinard, McIntyre's Books

Library Journal
In her second novel (after The Language of Trees), Ruby traces three generations of women in a single family. Diana, a charming but unreliable, hard-drinking single mother, gives daughters Dolly and Ruth a rootless existence. As an adult escaping an abusive marriage, Ruth returns to work at a former motel in Long Beach, CA, now a nursing home, where she had spent the happiest and most stable years of her childhood. There she falls in love with Graham, a Scottish fisherman who appears only at the full moon and who disappears entirely after the birth of their daughter, Naida, an unusual child with the gift of prophecy. Naida (a variant of Naiad, or "water nymph") is as strangely drawn to the sea as her grandmother Diana (Roman goddess of the moon) had been by the moon. Throughout, Ruby stresses the importance of legends, myths, symbols, and the stories we tell ourselves, as well as the emotional strength and courage of her troubled female characters and the enduring bonds between them. VERDICT Despite its derivative title (it seems as if every other novel these days is about someone's daughter or wife) this is a lyrical, multigenerational coming-of-age tale that will appeal to fans of magical realism.—Lauren Gilbert, Sachem P.L., Holbrook, NY
Kirkus Reviews
When a blue moon rises, mistakes can be undone, lost children can find their homes, and sea lions can shed their skins. The selkie myth lies at the heart of Ruby's (The Language of Trees, 2010) second novel. Born with a webbed foot, young Naida yearns for her mysterious father. But to understand his role in her life, she must first understand the stories of the women who came before her. The story swirls back to begin with her mother's tale. Ruthie and her sister, Dolly, grow up on the road with their mother, Diana, sleeping in their car, cursing in Yiddish, eluding mud slides and even picking strawberries as day workers. Ritually consulting her Farmer's Almanac, like Bottom in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, Diana moves her small family on. Is Diana simply restless, or is she fleeing something or someone? Eventually, Diana finagles her way into a real job at the beachside Twin Palms hotel. Her daughters embrace not only school, but also the wildness of the sea and town life. After Diana's death, the girls strangely find themselves under the guardianship of three kind nuns. On the cusp of womanhood, however, Ruthie is attacked, and as she grieves, she weeps seven tears into the sea. Just as the moon cycles, so do women's lives, and Ruthie returns to Twin Palms, which has become the Wild Acres retirement home, where she cares for others. Under a blue moon, Ruthie meets Graham, a Scottish fisherman whose soul calls to hers. Graham's love for Ruthie is intense, yet his presence ebbs and flows like the tide. What gifts has he bestowed on his daughter, Naida? This is a bewitching tale of lives entangled in lushly layered fables of the moon and sea.

Product Details

Soft Skull Press, Inc.
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.40(w) x 9.16(h) x 1.18(d)

Related Subjects

Meet the Author

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.

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The Salt God's Daughter 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
thebookwormNJ More than 1 year ago
The Salt God's Daughter is a beautifully written novel about mothers, daughters and sisters and the bonds that tie them together. Sisters Ruthie and Dolly are raised by their eccentric and many times irrational mother, Diana. Diana is always struggling to stay afloat as a single mom. At first you see the story through the eyes of a young Ruthie and many of these scenes are heart wrenching as the girls live a nomadic life, living out of a car with their unstable mother. The magical realism and the mythology infused into the novel made this for a dream-like read. As roles are reversed, the girls have to care for their mother. Diana is an alcoholic who suffers from bouts of depression and mania. Always on the road, staying in motels from time to time, these three are at the mercy of help from others. Diana often tells the girls how they ruined her life, she blames them for her losses. The narrative is beautiful and some passages stole my breath away. The story goes from past to present, as Ruthie takes us through the years of her life. Ruthie finds love one day, a complicated affair with a fisherman who comes and goes from her life. She calls him the Salt God. Ruthie has a daughter, Naida, whom she refers to from time to time, until the latter half of the novel when the child is born and the story begins to revolve around Naida's life. This is the first time I've seen my name in a novel, as it is not a common name and I was pleasantly surprised. Bullying becomes a theme in the novel as Naida is harassed by some of her classmates due to her having a webbed foot. They call her the "Frog Witch". I liked Naida's character best, this is a girl who was in love with the ocean, who believed she could breathe under water and who was always searching for her father. The bullying scenes and Naida's inner monologue over them were particularly heart breaking. I also liked Ruthie's character and the bond between this mother and daughter. The story spans three generations of these women's lives, Diana, Ruthie and Naida. I recommend The Salt God's Daughter to fans of magical realism and stories that are heart breaking, but showcase the strength of the human spirit as well. disclaimer: This review is my honest opinion. I did not receive any type of compensation for reading and reviewing this book. I am under no obligation to write a positive review. I won a copy of The Salt God's Daughter online.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
WOW! A fascinating novel that felt epic and intimate at the same time. I will never look at the ocean in the same way again. Highly recommended
Lilac_Wolf More than 1 year ago
The Salt God's Daughter isn't an overly long book, but it is full of poetic and descriptive writing. The story itself is gripping and I enjoyed the writing. But I do want to give fair warning, it does get wordy. Now you just have to decide if you like that or not. I thought it was beautiful and moved quickly through the tale. It's split into two parts. The first part tells the story of Ruthie's childhood, which was mostly unsupervised and spent homeless and traveling. Ruthie grows up to give birth to Naida and swears her daughter will never question her love. Ruthie has a terrible fear of water, yet lives near the ocean. Her daughter, Naida, loves the Ocean completely. There were plenty of happy moments within the story, but you spend a lot of time with your heart breaking for Ruthie and Naida. The author doesn't pretend that it's all rosy when you are considered to be on the fringe of society. If you are different, you are a target. There is a hint of magic in this tale with the tale of the people with animal skins who live in the water, never really belonging on land or to the sea. Ruthie's mother was obsessed with the moon and drawn to the ocean. It wasn't presented in a way to be "true" but it is never quite written off either. I truly loved all the mini-tales within this book. I was sorry to finish.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago