Ilie Ruby’s The Salt God’s Daughter takes us to the beaches and fields in Southern California with an itinerant wandering of two girls and their troubled mom, Diana (meaning “heavenly, divine”). Often alone and homeless, Ruthie and Dolly cling to one another — it’s these two sisters against the world as they search for a home in a world made magical with Jewish mysticism and Scottish legend.
In Ilie Ruby’s novel The Salt God’s Daughter, a fascinating fusion of contemporary realism and mystic folklore, readers are invited to traverse a tale as enigmatic and profound as the sea. Published in 2012, the novel is a tale of resilience, female empowerment, and the formidable bond of sisterhood. Their mother’s stories give them strength and courage — perhaps enough to last a lifetime, but there was still so much left unsaid, mysterious, and never known.
What About Narrative?
The narrative of The Salt God’s Daughter swirls around three generations of women, Ruthie, Naida, and Dina, each with intricate stories steeped in hardship, hope, and resilience. The plot flows as unpredictably as the ocean tides, moving between different times and perspectives. This non-linear narrative style keeps readers engrossed. It reflects the cyclical nature of life and the constancy of change, central themes in the book.
The Power of Myth and Folklore
A defining element of Ruby’s novel is the use of ancient Scottish folklore and Jewish mysticism. These tales are woven seamlessly into the narrative, shaping the characters’ worldview, affecting their decisions, and offering readers a unique lens through which to view the story. One such folklore story is that of the Selkies, mythical creatures who are seals in water but can shed their skins to become humans on land. This concept becomes an essential metaphor for transformation, identity, and the dual nature of existence.
Women at the Heart of the Story
In the heart of The Salt God’s Daughter are complex, strong-willed women who navigate through their tumultuous lives with courage and fortitude. Their relationships, marked by unconditional love, mutual support, and occasional discord, are vividly portrayed, underscoring the power and complexity of familial bonds. Ruby presents an unflinching exploration of womanhood, with its joys, pains, and everything. The characters’ struggles with societal norms, expectations, and desires form a significant part of their narratives. Each character experiences hardship, but their resilience and determination stand out. Despite their ordeals, they rise, harnessing their pain as a source of power and wisdom.
Nature as a Powerful Symbol
The novel’s setting, predominantly a beach in Southern California, is more than just a backdrop. It’s an integral character, reflecting the characters’ emotional landscapes and serving as a conduit for magical realism. The sea is an ever-present entity, symbolizing change, mystery, and the unfathomable depths of life and human emotions. Using the lunar calendar and tides further deepens the symbolism, representing the cyclical nature of life and the inevitable ebb and flow of fortunes.
The Rest of the Story – Learning to Breathe
The ocean calls to Ruthie and Dolly, and the words of The Farmer’s Almanac are a constant source of wisdom both in their transient wanderings with their mother and later. Ruthie continues to search for truth and meaning. She saw what happened to their mother, experienced the seal spirits, and fell in love with a mysterious figure who emerged from the sea under a blue moon. The book’s mystical tones, female characters, and symbols evoke the reflection of love, sacrifice, and destiny. Something inextricably linked their lives with the power of the waves.
The seals (selkies) speak and shed their skins, and Naida has inexplicable powers — born to her with her name meaning “nymph.” She knows more than she should, and she’s the daughter of that mysterious Graham, a “salt god” who loves her but cannot stay. Ultimately, The Salt God’s Daughter is a story of the sea, of women, of struggle, and the indomitable spirit of survival. It’s a tale as timeless as the tide, inviting readers to plunge into its depths and emerge with new understandings and profound insights. The moon is a constant. It gives, but it also takes.