Ruby Rauf is an idealistic, industrious scholarship student with a fixed plan. She is going to ace her exams and get a decent job so she never has to suffer the daily degradation of poverty again. Yet, when she meets the compelling actor-turned-politician Saif Haq, her world is upended. Dazzled by his charisma, inspired by his zeal, she quits her degree midway to join his campaign as his social media manager.
Ruby soon discovers that politics, even with a leader as upright as Saif Haq, is a moral minefield. Diligent, sincere but desperately naïve, Ruby longs to do the right thing but struggles at first to square her innate integrity with the difficult choices her job demands. As she wades deeper into the quagmire of political intrigue and the savage world of social media, her values grow more flexible, her methods more ruthless. She out-thinks allies and rivals to deliver brilliant results. Resented and admired by her colleagues, favoured by Saif, Ruby appears unstoppable until one day when Saif asks her to prove her loyalty by making the most painful sacrifice of all.
I’m a huge fan of Moni Mohsin’s writing and her first novel, The End of Innocence, was profound. It was also completely different from her Butterfly series which I believe is what most readers continue to associate her with. That brought me to pick up her latest – centred on politics with a take on the #MeToo movement.
Ruby Rauf is a feminist and wary of men like Saif Haq but after their first meeting, Ruby realises he is nothing like the man she expected him to be.
Back home, Ruby’s mother lives in poverty, having lost everything when her businessman husband died. She now works as a tutor to make ends meet. After her run-in with a drug lord who humiliates and threatens her with his political connections, Ruby accepts Saif’s proposal to join his new party-Integrity-which intends to change the political face of Pakistan.
Ruby’s desire to do good starts off on the right note but her ambition soon makes her moral compass waver. It comes to a point where nothing and no one is excluded, not even her childhood friend who becomes her unfortunate prey.
“… her conscience was like a solid glass cube enclosed in a tight iron cylinder lodged inside her heart. The cube would rotate every time she knowingly wronged someone. In the beginning, every rotation would be agonising as the cube’s sharp edges smashed and splintered against the cylinder. But if she sinned again and again, the cube would rotate more frequently. Gradually, its sides would chip away and a time would come when the cube’s edges would disappear altogether. The cube would then be as smooth and rounded as its enclosing cylinder. Then it would spin effortlessly, painlessly no matter how great her crime.”
There are no secrets or spoilers in this story and you can foresee the disaster Ruby is headed towards. This political game is not how she intended for it to play out. But she is in too deep now, especially with her clandestine affair with Saif.
While this is written like a political satire, this novel, ultimately, is not a political thriller. This is a coming-of-age story of 23-year-old Ruby whose choices and decisions, driven by her ambition, pave the way for her failure and fall from grace.
I am still undecided if I liked the predictability of this novel with its gut punch at the end. Or would I have preferred a little more mystery along the way. Then again, no matter where in the world we stand, women’s lives are hardly a mystery. We will continue to hashtag ‘feminism’ and ‘down with patriarchy’ but there will always be an innocent soul somewhere who will be preyed on by false promises.
We have a long, long way to go to end this evil but Mohsin’s wit in making this both strangely funny and acutely scary is what makes this stand out.
The Impeccable Integrity of Ruby R by Moni Mohsin. Published in 2020 by Viking, an imprint of Penguin Random House India.
Book 56 of 2021.
Aquamarine Flavours Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟.
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