Tuesday, April 7, 2015

All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews

I have mixed emotions about this book.  I didn't love it as I read it, but the more I think about it now that I'm done, it's growing on me.

This is the story of Efrieda and Yolandi, Mennonite sisters from Winnipeg.  Now grown women, Elf and Yoli live very different lives.  Elf is a world-renowned concert pianist, Yoli is the author of a somewhat successful series of rodeo books.  Elf has a very successful, happy relationship, Yoli has a string of broken relationships and shame about the fact that she "sleeps around".  Elf is suicidal, Yoli is determined to save her.

This is the story of their sisterhood.  Looking back on their childhood in a strict Mennonite community, Yoli (the narrator) looks at their lives and what brought them to where they are today.  Elf has made several attempts to take her own life, and each time Yoli is by her side, encouraging her to fight on.  So when Elf asks Yoli to take her to Switzerland to help her end her life legally, on her own terms, Yoli is torn.

This is a story of love, of sisters, of mental illness, of the difficulty of living when you don't want to live anymore.  And what is love, to allow your sister to go, even to help her die, or to ask her to keep living for your own sake?

Miriam Toews own father and sister committed suicide, so this book has a lot of her own story in it, which makes it more difficult to read at times.

But with all that being said, there are times when this book is laugh-out-loud funny.  Yoli is a very funny character and her way of expressing herself was humourous, even in the sad situations in which she found herself.  She is a very likeable, endearing character.

I'm glad I read it, but I don't think I'd ever read it again.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Sue,
    I have hesitated to read this book for the reasons that you outline. I know Miriam's history. Her humour is sometimes very sarcastic- especially about her Mennonite upbringing. There is often a lot of pain behind her humour.
    I appreciated your thoughts.