Ruth Hartley was born on a farm in Zimbabwe. After education in that country she took a degree in Fine Art at Cape Town University in the days of apartheid, before having to leave South Africa because of her activities. She took refuge in London where she married and came to Zambia as the wife on Dr. Michael Bush. Ruth spent 22 years in Zambia bringing up her family and 12 years as Director of the Mpapa Art Gallery in Lusaka. She returned to the UK in 1994 to teach and practice her art. In 2008 and 2009 she set out on a long tour of Europe and Turkey by motorhome, visiting 27 countries from London to central Turkey and from the south coast of Sicily to the North Cape, 300 miles inside the Arctic Circle. For the past 5 years, she has lived in southern France.
Ruth has now published her first novel. “The Shaping of Water” is a character-driven story, following the different but overlapping lives of those who are connected to a ramshackle cottage by Lake Kariba as it was filling up during the liberation wars across the region.
The characters are connected in ways they can’t imagine by past secrets and future tragedies. Are these connections to remain hidden or be uncovered by the characters’ decisions and actions? From Patrick the Jesuit, to Andy the Selous Scout; from Marielise, lover of revolutionaries Jo and Luke, to Margaret the banker’s wife; from Natombi and Milimo whose home is drowned by the lake, to Manda, a young woman trying to make her marriage work; the characters are shaped by the rising lake and increasing violence in Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The dramatic plot is about damage and survival, passion and uncertainty, adaptation and love, set against a background of escalating war. It tells the story of a world turned upside-down by cynical politicians and reinvented by the courage of ordinary people. Enriched by a detailed knowledge of the history, geography and environment of the region and the variety of its fully-realised characters, this book has wide appeal.
The novel is imbued with the light, colour and flavour of the landscape, of the lake and of the cottage. The reader discovers new worlds through this riveting novel and will remember them long afterwards.
The author has spent most of her life in Africa as mentioned above and lived through the events described in this book. Unique in its context, breadth and depth of insight into a particular period of time, in what was at the time a little-visited place, this book is economic in style, evocative and well written.
“The Shaping of Water” is an excellent read with characters and a plot that will affect the reader’s heart, challenge ideas, and remain in the memory. It will appeal to intelligent and thoughtful lovers of good fiction, travellers and explorers both actual and armchair.