Author(s): Miriam Toews
Miram Toews' All My Puny Sorrows - Sunday Times Top Choice Summer Read Elf and Yoli are two smart, loving sisters. Elf is a world-renowned pianist, glamorous, wealthy, happily married: she wants to die. Yoli is divorced, broke, sleeping with the wrong men: she desperately wants to keep her older sister alive. When Elf's latest suicide attempt leaves her hospitalised weeks before her highly anticipated world tour, Yoli is forced to confront the impossible question of whether it is better to let a loved one go. Miriam Toews' All My Puny Sorrows, at once tender and unquiet, offers a profound reflection on the limits of love, and the sometimes unimaginable challenges we experience when childhood becomes a new country of adult commitments and responsibilities. "The novel she has written - so exquisitely that you'll want to savour every word - reads as if it has been wrenched from her heart." (Christina Patterson, Sunday Times). "[Miriam Toews] has produced a masterly book of such precise dignity. It is, also against all the odds, at times a desperately humorous novel." (Daily Mail). "Toews takes her place alongside Alice Munro, Robertson Davies, Margaret Atwood and Mordicai Richler as the loveliest quintet of Canadian writing." (Los Angeles Times).
This is the best novel I've read in a while. Toews, obviously drawing on her own experience, tells us a compellingly funny and searingly sad story. This wry, affecting story of suicide and mental frailty centres on the lives and relationship between two sisters, Elfrida and Yolandi. From the opening sentence "Our house was taken away on the back of a truck on afternoon late in the summer of 1979", you are taken into the confines of this family's life. Living in a small community, a Mennonite family, the sisters' lives are far from perfect, far from normal. Elf, a brilliant musician who is adored by all who meet her and listen to her play, is also troubled and pained by life. Yoli, the younger sister, a writer of girls' rodeo novels, feels like 'the failed one' with her underwhelming style and erratic relationships. But it is to Yoli that Elf always turns to rescue her, not from herself but from life. Toews portrays Elf's feelings and desire for a release with moving honesty. Yet it is the character of Yolandi that will capture you and that you will cheer on from the sides as she navigates her way through bad relationships, not-so-great parenting, coming to terms with her extended family and all their quirks, coping with Elf, and starting again. Describing this novel, it's hard to get away from the fact that it is a tragedy, but it also overwhelming funny with its accounts of family life, hilarious characters and sharp humour. - Stella
All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews is a story of sisters, suicide and how to carry on with hope when grief loads the heart.
Shortlisted for Folio Prize 2015.
Miriam Toews (pronounced taves) was born in 1964 in the small Mennonite town of Steinbach, Manitoba, in Canada. She has published six novels - including A Boy of Good Breeding, A Complicated Kindness, The Flying Troutmans, Irma Voth and All My Puny Sorrows - and a memoir of her father, Swing Low. Toews is the recipient of numerous literary awards including the Governor General's Award, the McNally Robinson Book of the Year Award (twice), and the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize. In 2007 she made her screen debut in the film Luz silenciosa. She was nominated for Best Actress at Mexico's Ariel Awards for her performance.