Ruth by Marlene Lewis

We are the product of our times. 

The book in one sentence: Ruth faces trial and tribulation while discovering the truth about herself and her family in Papua New Guinea.

My thoughts

This is inspiring, is historical, and it hits home. Ruth by Marlene S. Lewis is a story about an Australian woman who grew up in Papua New Guinea in the 1950-60s. It is a life story - of hardship and struggle - steeped in an era of stormy civil rights clashes and colonialism.

Ruth is the only daughter of coffee plantation owners John and Alice Madison. Coming home to the Owen Stanley Ranges in Papua New Guinea after a term in boarding school, she puzzles over why everyone is acting so strange. Until she witnesses her mother thus:

"Looks like the rain's going to set in," Bert said, as they glanced out through the trellis to watch the heavy downpour bucketing over the outbuildings.

"Oh my goodness, who on earth is that?" Myrtle said as her hand swept to her mouth. "Oh heavens above, it's a white woman with no clo..."

Everyone stared in horror. There was Alice, sitting on an oil drum in the pouring rain.

And with that dramatic ending on page 32, Marlene Lewis had me up until 2:00 am!

The whole book is about Ruth from young woman to adulthood. We follow her from one calamity to another - innocent young girl, pregnant young woman forced to deal with hardships way beyond her years, settling down, and finally reinventing herself. I thought that the story would end there but no, there is more. Believe me, what this woman went through is nothing to scoff at.

Ruth is a tough woman, reminiscent of the pioneer women, and anything life throws at her, she deals with and moves on. But she doesn't escape unscathed, and she retains an emotional vulnerability that I am sure many people can relate to. In the midst of all these trials, Ruth relies heavily on her family and her friendships. Marlene Lewis does a wonderful job of keeping Ruth and her reletionships both believable and inspiring.

What I found most fascinating about this book: it is based on the history of Papua New Guinea, a country that has a colonial past - under the Dutch, the British, and the Australians (during which this story is set in, in the 1950s-60s). This makes for the rich, and rather explosive dynamics between the locals and the colonizers. There is the master-servant attitude with abuse commonplace, accepted, and even taken for the norm; an unspoken segregation and discrimination; a taboo of relationships between these two groups; and lastly the conflicting views of either resignedness to or challenging the status quo. {Sidenote: I grew up in the Philippines which also has a strong colonial past and the similarities resonate with me.}

Ruth's naive picture of her idyllic life in Papua New Guinea is painfully shattered. Without giving out too much information and spoiling things for you: the milieu plays such a critical role in these truths; it permeates these truths. She finds out why her mother was acting so strangely that day, the events that led to her father's suspicious death, the reasons for her brother's longstanding hostility, and the true identity of her beloved childhood sweetheart. I was in probably in shock mode for the most part, as I was learning history in a much more realistic way through these characters' lives.


First line: Friday 14th December 1956 had arrived at last.

Random quote: "You know, Ruthy, Christmas can be one of the saddest times as you get older. We lose people along the way of life, people who have been special to us; then Christmas comes and they aren't with us, and it's like losing them all over again." - p. 237

Verdict: This is an engrossing read which gives plenty of food for thought about womanhood, family relationships and friendships, and the cultures which shapes us into the people we become and the lives we live.

I received this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers.


  1. This book sounds really good. I will have to add it to my list.

  2. Hi Sherry - thanks so much for coming by! It's quite a recent book which I won through LibraryThing I couldn't contain my excitement after aving read it and sent off a quick note to the author via Goodreads! (Btw, I LOVE your Saturday Reviews and stumble upon so many great reads that way!)


© guiltless readingMaira Gall