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Book review: Iris and Ruby by Rosie Thomas


Iris & Ruby is a book with two stories.  On one side, we have Ruby, a rebellious teenager, who leaves her family in England to seek refuge in Cairo with her grandmother Iris, who is practically a stranger.  On the other side, we have Iris, 82 years old at the time of Ruby’s arrival, remembering different parts of her younger life. In Ruby’s time with Iris, both women are pushed to their limits. Ruby grows more mature as she spends more times with Iris and Iris sees Ruby’s teenage passion and remembers her own youthfulness.

Fallucah (Egyptian sailboat) on the Nile

Through typical teenage drama (Egyptian style), Ruby finally begins to mature and after some life-threatening events, Iris begins to remember what she has forgotten about her early years in Cairo.

While Ruby’s teenage attitude has puts off Iris’ protective manservant, Mamdooh, Ruby’s personality reminds Iris of her own youth and floods of memories come back to her.  Ruby and Iris see the changes and plan for Ruby to record Iris’ memories so they won’t be forgotten.

Lanterns at a Cairo bazaar

Iris traveled a lot when she was younger and eventually found herself in Cairo during World War Two. Holding a desk job, she became a social butterfly and eventually met and fell in love with Captain Xan Molyneux. After the war changed the course of her life, she decides to train as a nurse and move permanently to Cairo.

This book offers a great chance to see Cairo from the point of view of a non-Egyptian living in the city during World War Two. It gives insights into the daily life of a privileged Westerner living in a country in war, but also shows a humble foreigner with a heart who wants to help.

Saqquara Pyramid

Iris & Ruby alternates between Ruby’s point of view in the present day Cairo and Iris’ memories of Cairo in World War Two. Put together, it provides wonderful contrast and shows that even though the women are of different generations, they still have a lot in common.

After traveling in Egypt, reading Thomas’ descriptions of Cairo was especially interesting. Of course, it’s different now than it was in World War Two, but it’s still busy, crazy Cairo.

Iris & Ruby is certainly a book to check out if you plan to travel to Egypt, have any interest in the country or it’s role in World War Two.

If you want more reading recommendations, check out Travel Fiction and Memoirs.

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