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The Water Man's Daughter [Paperback]

Emma Ruby-Sachs
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
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Book Description

May 10 2011
An accomplished, hard-hitting debut novel that marries a page-turning plot with the stories of three women, each of whom is struggling with decisions that will change the course of her life.

The violent death of a Canadian water company executive in a black township of Johannesburg throws together a South African anti-privatization activist and the water executive's daughter, Claire, who arrives suddenly from Canada desperate to understand her father's death. The murder investigation -- led by an officer who is finding her own loyalties increasingly unclear -- and Claire's personal quest become entwined, and the young Canadian's involvement with the activist brings her ever closer to a shocking truth she might not be able to bear. The Water Man's Daughter, like its characters, is fierce and tender, thought-provoking and emotionally rich. It introduces Emma Ruby-Sachs as an enormously talented, original, and fearless new voice in Canadian fiction.

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"[An] assured debut . . . beautifully tense . . . at heart a morality tale."
Toronto Star
"Ruby-Sachs brings her setting and its cast vibrantly to life: the parching heat, night-time chills, the dirt tracks and clinging Soweto dust, the families living in near-poverty yet touchingly house-proud, while their civic officials boast charmless mansions and giant plasma TVs. . . . [The final] 40 pages . . . gather up the story's themes and plot strands in ways completely unexpected, and exhilarating."
Globe and Mail
"Ruby-Sachs has set herself an impressive agenda for a first novel . . . most notably her ripped-from-the headlines plot, authentic setting, and lively dialogue sprinkled with Zulu words and phrases."
Edmonton Journal
"[An] impressive debut. . . . Plays like a classic whodunit, but its mystery involves how much we really know about others -- especially those people we think we know best."
Quill & Quire

About the Author

EMMA RUBY-SACHS's journalism has been published in The Nation and The Huffington Post. A graduate of Wesleyan University and the University of Toronto law school, Ruby-Sachs lived in South Africa for periods in 2003 and 2004 while studying. She has worked as a civil litigator in Windsor and Toronto and currently works with Avaaz, a progressive online organization. Emma lives in Brooklyn.

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Phenomenal Book May 20 2011
This was the best book I've read in a long time, especially impressive given that Ms. Ruby-Sachs is apparently a first-time novelist. Compelling from the opening scene, peppered with insights into human nature, and thought-provoking on an important social issue I had not previously given much attention. Strongly recommended.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent, thought-provoking read May 19 2011
I loved this book because nothing about the characters or the plot was simplistic. I did not feel that as a reader I was being written down to. The book invited me to think on world politics, gender dynamics, class, human psychology and social interaction. I become completely invested and connected to all of the characters. The main women in the book were especially compelling - they were layered, complex and real. I highly recommend this book!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Competing interests Jan. 21 2012
By Friederike Knabe TOP 100 REVIEWER
A dead man, his grieving daughter, a community activist leader, and a local police woman are at the centre of Emma Ruby-Sachs's ambitious debut novel. Sounds like a murder mystery? Well, it is that and quite a bit more. Set in Soweto, at a time when hopes of township dwellers for a better life are gradually being eroded, Emma Ruby-Sachs builds a colourful portrait of a community that finds itself in opposition to an international corporation; the story delves into the conflicts that the differing interests entail. The bone of contention is the new privately-run water supply system. On top of the other economic hardships faced by the local people, the installation of a new water distribution system will require everybody to buy any water usage above their limited personal allowance. While much more convenient and possibly safer, thanks to taps inside their small houses or compounds, the personal allowance is much too low for the families' needs. As traditionally responsible for the water in the family, the women's action is aimed at delaying the operation of the new system. Organized by the Phiri Community Foundation and led by twenty-six year old Nomsulwa they dig up the distribution pipes! A crisis erupts: the water company's respected water engineer is sent from Canada to Johannesburg to negotiate some sort of deal or compromise. Problem is: his counterparts are the local elders and power brokers, who demand ever more money to "keep their women under control". After only one day of meetings and a boozy night, Peter, known as "The Water Man" to the locals, is found dead, brutally murdered...While the investigation drags on, Claire, his daughter, arrives to find out what happened.

Ruby-Sachs's sympathies are with her South African characters: they are vividly and believably presented.
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4.0 out of 5 stars As emotionally provocative as it is fascinating July 6 2012
By Mary Lavers TOP 500 REVIEWER
Set against the backdrop of post Apartheid South Africa, The Water Man's Daughter tells the story of a murdered Canadian water company employee whose death sparks a high profile investigation and a visit from his daughter, demanding answers. The genius of this novel is that there are no answers, at least not easy ones. Everyone is a hero and a villain in some way. The dead man was responsible for privatizing the water supply of the poorest regions of Johannesburg, cutting hundreds of families off from a clean water source. He was much despised and feared. He was also a loving father who is deeply mourned by his daughter. Although we do eventually understand the circumstances that led up to his death, this is by no means a traditional whodunnit. It's a complicated story told in simple prose (which I think makes it all the more powerful) that is as emotionally provocative as it is fascinating.

I'm glad I stuck with this novel. There was something about the beginning of it that I found difficult to grasp on to (it was probably just me, since the story itself is definitely interesting). Maybe it was the quietness of the prose. Perhaps I was expecting explosions, dialogue filled with gasping and shouting, long descriptions of dying animals in the street that are meant to act as not-so-subtle parallels to the violence of the setting, a young author's enthusiastic attempts to get the dialect of the black characters just right and then showing off her cleverness on every page. There was none of that. Instead Emma Ruby-Sachs let her story unfold quietly, evenly and simply, even when the story itself was graphic or tense. She never showed off how good she is at being a novelist, she simply wrote a good novel.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyed this one. A quick read. June 6 2012
By Jj
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This was a well thought out book. I enjoyed the setting and the characters although I felt that both cod have been created with more depth. The story line pushed the book forWard faster than it needed to go.

Because of the content and social commentary found in the book. I would recommend it.
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