As a child, Ruby stops speaking. Her loving family don’t understand, but keep loving her anyway. Her sister is tough and caring, her mother is sometimes ill and sometimes not, and the suburban neighbours are in and out, as are the Aunties and Biji (Ruby’s grandmother).
This sensitive short novel is a very quick read but you’ll want to linger over the language. For fans of her poetry collections Small Hands and Dear Big Gods, Arshi’s fresh and illuminating prose will be no surprise. The chapter titles make you feel like you’re reading a collection of prose poems (I particularly liked De-Catastrophisation (for beginners)) and the story flows easily and well. It’s not a hard book to read but it’s a hard book to put down. I read it in a single sitting.
The racism that Ruby and her family face runs throughout the book. Despite dealing with traumatic things, Arshi’s sharp turns of phrase are often funny: “But I don’t believe my father is an elephant; he is most like a canary. His main role in our family is to detect early signs of disturbance and then to flap his wings and warble a little. Of course, usually no one takes notice, or if they notice it’s too late, but that isn’t, strictly speaking, the canary’s fault”.
The cover art is exquisite and echoes the importance of the garden to Ruby’s mother. I could stare at it all day.
Somebody Loves You sings. Read it and listen.