Book Review: Looking for a New Author? Try Miriam Toews.

I just put a hold on this wonderful Canadian author’s newest book, Women Talking, after reading about it in The New Yorker. This, her eighth novel, was released in Canada last year and is due out in the U.S. on April 2. As in many of her books, she draws on her Mennonite heritage as a way to express outrage, humor, and melancholy (often simultaneously).

Of course, I have only been able to read about this new book, but it sounds like it will a bit of a departure from earlier works in form and tone, and will definitely channel some of Toews’ rage against her former religion. She wrote it after learning that between 2005 and 2009 more than a hundred Mennonite women and girls in a community known as Manitoba Colony had been raped at night in their homes. The horrific string of crimes stopped when two men were caught entering a home one night ready to sedate and assault more women.

The book is a exactly what the title suggests: Toews creates a book-length conversation of Mennonite women and girls talking and responding to what has happened to them and their community. I am sure it will be a very interesting and emotional read. To read the full New Yorker article about Toews and her work, click here.

If you haven’t read anything she’s written, I highly recommend some of Toews’ earlier works as an introduction to her talents.

A Complicated Kindness (2004) is a darkly humorous coming-of-age novel about 16-year-old Nomi, who lives in a bleak Menonnite community in rural Manitoba with her father. Her mother and sister have left them; the book is her bitingly-funny adolescent skewering of the eccentricities and male-dominated control of her community and its religion. This is the book that launched Toews’ career.

All My Puny Sorrows (2014) is a novel based on her relationship with her sister. (Toews has said that the novel draws heavily on the events leading up to the 2010 suicide of her sister, Marjorie.) The sisters in her story are Elfrieda and Yoli, the only children in an intellectual, free-spirited family from a conservative Mennonite community. Elfrieda is a world-renowned pianist: glamorous, wealthy, happily married, but suicidal and fragile. Yolandi (based on Toews) is divorced and broke; all she wants is to find true love and to keep her older sister alive. Toews tells the story with her usual mix of humor, melacholy, and compassion. Goodreads says the story is simultaneously “tender and unquiet,” and I agree.

To place a hold on Women Talking, click here.

To request A Complicated Kindness, click here.

To request All My Puny Sorrows, click here.

Review by Roberta Jordan, Outreach and Instruction Librarian.

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