Iris and Ruby

Written by Rosie Thomas
Review by Beth Turza

After a lifetime of independent living, Dr. Iris Black finds that she is losing herself to dementia. In her solitude, she is lovingly cared for by her servant, Mamdooh, and her cook, Aunty. Chapters are written in Iris’s frightened voice as she struggles with her broken fragments of memory. We listen to her as she clearly remembers happy times from sixty years ago, in WWII-era Cairo, and the love of her life. Then her hard-edged English granddaughter, 19-year-old Ruby, arrives on her doorstep unannounced, throwing the household into confusion. Iris has not maintained much of a relationship with Ruby or her mother, Leslie, Iris’s only child. Ruby is running from problems at home and hopes that in reconnecting with her Cairo Granny, she can escape life in England. Instead, she grows up.

The pairing of these two women, at opposite life stages, shows how the generations can heal one another while discovering more about themselves. They are virtual strangers, but when old-world Egypt meets modern times, Ruby discovers Iris’s old life and, along, with her new friends, draws Iris back into the world. This is lovely to read. On one adventure out into the desert, danger strikes, and this finally brings the long-suffering Leslie to Cairo. She, too, finds healing properties in this exotic land. Although Leslie doesn’t appear in Cairo until the end of the book, she puts everyone to rights, herself included.

I really enjoyed Iris and Ruby and the loving, understanding way that the author explains, through Iris’s voice, the losses caused by dementia. The bond that forms among the women of this family, who were torn apart through time and their different careers, meshes nicely with Ruby’s learning the ways of the local people. The visit to her Cairo Granny changes Ruby forever.