The Book of Ruth
The Book of Ruth is told from the perspective of Ruth, and in describing the events of her life she reveals more about herself than she is aware. Ruth's voice structures the tale, and it is very neat and methodical. The major events of the novel are complemented by a rich sense of Ruth's everyday life so that the dramatic climax of the book, which is hinted at throughout, is part of a well-drawn whole. Announced on October 10, 1996.
About the Author
Jane Hamilton lives and works in Wisconsin. The Book of Ruth, was awarded the 1989 PEN/Hemingway Foundation Award for best first novel.
Reading Group Questions
Form a reading group using these questions and go deeper into The Book of Ruth.
Praise for Jane Hamilton's The Book of Ruth.
In both The Book of Ruth and A Map of the World, Jane Hamilton has created women who are far from perfect -- their flaws are made painfully apparent — but they discover in themselves great reserves of strength. Although the physical landscape they inhabit (an important factor in both novels) is very mild, these women seem to be surrounded by destructive forces. Their families and communities threaten their peaceful existences, and sometimes even their lives. Although both women may seem initially to be at the mercy of these destructive forces, there is something in them that never quite gives in.
In these first two novels by Jane Hamilton, one finds the birth and development of a strong and unique voice in fiction. The Book of Ruth and A Map of the World are linked by many characters, themes, and ideas, but each book has its own distinct personality. Despite the stylistic differences between these two novels, what remains consistent is Hamilton's ability to convey the emotional lives of her characters with clarity and resonance. Ruth and Alice's pain is palpable, and their joys are our rewards as well.
Learn more about the author, Jane Hamilton
Jane Hamilton lives, works, and writes in an orchard farmhouse in Wisconsin.
Her short stories have appeared in Harper's Magazine, and her first book, The Book of Ruth, was awarded the 1989 PEN/Hemingway Foundation Award for best first novel. Seven years after its publication, The Book of Ruth was chosen for Oprah's Book Club, giving it a second life.
In 1994 Hamilton published A Map of the World, which became an international best seller, and in 1998, The Short History of a Prince, which won the Heartland Prize for Fiction, and was shortlisted for Britain's Orange Prize.
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- Ruth's story is particularly poignant because of the way she conveys so much that is beyond her understanding. What are the differences between what Ruth tells us and what we infer about her life and the people in it? How does Hamilton achieve this?
- How do you respond to Ruth's naivete? Does her lack of understanding about the people in her life frustrate you? Or does her innocence make her more sympathetic?
- May is in many ways a monstrous character in Ruth's life. What about her, if anything, makes her seem more human? Do you see any of May in Ruth?
- How does Ruth get caught between May and Ruby? Does Justy's birth improve the situation for her at all?
- Daisy is a puzzling character because of the way she seems so comfortable in the world of the novel, even while she remains distinct and apart from everyone in the world. How is her friendship important to Ruth? Is she as well-drawn as the other characters in the book?
- The Book of Ruth's climax is hinted at subtly (and not so subtly) throughout the novel. What effect does this type of foreshadowing have on your reading? Does it add to or diminish the impact of the events when they finally occur?
- How do you respond to Ruth's attitude toward Ruby at the end of the book?
Learn what the critics have to say about The Book of Ruth.
"A sly and wistful, if harrowing, human comedy. Hamilton is a new and original voice in fiction and one well worth listening to." — Boston Sunday Globe
"Ms. Hamilton gives Ruth a humble dignity and allows her hope - but it's not a heavenly hope. It's a common one, caked with mud and held with gritted teeth. And it's probably the only kind that's worth reading about."
— New York Times Book Review
"Jane Hamilton's novel is authentically Dickensian...The real achievement of this first novel is not so much the blackness as the suggestion of resilience. At the end, Ruth begins to put together her shattered body, spirit and life. Her words are awkward, as they have been all along, but suddenly and unexpectedly they shine."
— Los Angeles Times
"An American beauty this book ...The narrator of Jane Hamilton's sensational first novel is a holy lusty innocent."
"Hamilton's story builds to a shocking crescendo. Her small-town characters are as appealingly offbeat and brushed with grace as any found in Alice Hoffman's or Anne Tyler's novels."
"A disturbing and beautiful book."
— Hilma Wolitzer
Read more from Jane Hamilton
Review past Oprah's Book Club selections