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The Water Man's Daughter
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon August 26, 2011
This is a Who Done It mystery which takes place in Johannesburg, South Africa.
It is the story of a Canadian, Peter Matthews who is CEO of a controversial water privatization project who after arriving in South Africa is murdered. His 21 year old daughter Claire comes to South Africa determined to find out what happened to her father. Zembe Afrika, a policewoman is in charge of the investigation and wants Claire out of her way. She pressures a young anti-privatization activist, Nomsulwato to be Claire's escort. Gradually both women find themselves drawn together in spite of their differences.

This book is very well written and holds your interest from beginning to end.
I enjoyed this book immensely and can highly recommend it.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on 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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
'Nomsulwa plays with bullets in the alleyway.' So opens Emma Ruby-Sachs's debut novel that depicts a violent South African legacy renewed with each generation. As Nomsulwa and her cousin, Mira, attempt to sabotage their township's recently privatized water distribution system, a supportive policewoman turns a blind eye and the mutilated body of a Canadian water company executive sparks a corrupt investigation.

When Claire, "the water man's daughter," arrives in grief to seek answers about her father's killing, Nomsulwa, as a return favour to the police, acts as a diversionary local host. And, with Mira and his gang among the murder suspects, plot lines develop and intersect. As Nomsulwa attempts to reconcile her disdain for corporate North America with her growing sympathy for Claire, the two women bond over the realities of loss and oppression.

Ruby-Sachs creates a vibrant setting and finely evokes most of her characters; parching heat, nightly chills, and lingering dust enhance the juxtaposition between house-proud families living poverty and civic officials in charmless mansions. Nomsulwa comes across as three-dimensional, proactive and relatable whereas, ironically, Claire emerges as the weakest character: confused, naive and flaky.

Despite lapses in realism, such as major oversights by Johannesburg's police homicide squad and extremely lax hotel security, "The Water Man's Daughter" ultimately ties together themes and plot lines in unexpected, exhilarating ways that manage to eschew complete redemption in favour of highlighting the human cost of systemic inequity.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on June 14, 2011
Emma Ruby-Sachs' first novel jumped off the page for me. The characters were complex and interesting, yet believable and flawed. It was a novel but, like other reviewers have mentioned, brought in aspects of world politics that are not frequently discussed, and addressed gender politics in a fascinating way. But it was never too heavy or difficult to get through. I recommend this book to anyone looking for a book that pulls you in quickly and doesn't let go.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on 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
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. As readers we can visualize them within their local environment, preoccupied by challenges, economical as well as personal. Nomsulwa "feels ancient, part of a thousand generations of women who fought for their community." The author captures her beautifully, caught as she is between community needs and law and order requirements. Her counterpart, Zembe Africa, the local police officer, is similarly torn between, on the one hand, her duty to pursue the pipe thieves and, on top of that, a murder enquiry and, on the other, her sense of belonging to and empathy with the community's problems and Nomsulwa's personal dilemma. For reasons that will be clear pretty early on, she pairs Nomsulwa with Claire: the local woman as the driver and "chaperone" for the "white girl". Can they even communicate? And what could be the outcome?

Ruby-Sachs, a lawyer by training and profession, has set herself a major challenge with her first novel: how to bring an explosive political issue, such as the privatization of water supply to poor communities in Africa, convincingly into a fictional setting and blend its treatment into a novel that engages the reader, beyond its central issues. While the murder mystery provides a useful frame for her novel, its narrative strength lies with the depiction of her South African characters, their environment and the deeper problems they confront. Conscious, no doubt, of not overwhelming the reader with her underlying concerns, the author relies on the interested reader to pick up on the numerous references and allusions in the text to delve deeper into the topics that preoccupy her beyond her fictional writing. [Friederike Knabe]
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on September 4, 2011
The story concept was different and it held my interest fairly well, just was not a page turner. I did not find that I particularly connected or liked any of the characters.
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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. The tone was like listening at the feet of a storyteller, which I think was just right.

I wouldn't be surprised if The Water Man's Daughter finds its way on to high school syllabi (is that the plural of syllabus? My spell check says no, but I think it is). It's not that I think it will be used to teach students about South African politics and infrastructure in the post Apartheid era. I don't know enough about South Africa to know if the details in the novel are accurate (but let's say, for the sake of argument, that they are). I think this novel could be used as a perfect example of the notion that "everyone is somebody's devil," that every story has multiple sides and no one side is ever completely right or completely wrong. I think it's a fact of human nature that we want to vilify our enemies and canonize our heroes (whether it's in the form of comparing anyone who annoys you on the internet to Hitler, or in the form of Disney's entire body of work). In reality, however, people rarely think of themselves as evil. Everyone has a point of view and everyone thinks they're doing the right thing, or else that their wrong thing is somehow justified. It makes the world complicated, but it's true. And if you wanted a literary example of a story in which everybody is right and everybody is wrong and the truth is muddled in between, this is it.

For more reviews, please visit my blog, CozyLittleBookJournal.

Disclaimer: I received a digital galley of this book free from the publisher from NetGalley. I was not obliged to write a favourable review, or even any review at all. The opinions expressed are strictly my own.
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on June 6, 2012
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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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on May 19, 2011
This book was incredible and I couldn't put it down. It is imaginative, beautifully written, and full of insight. It is a real page turner and I highly recommend it.
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