All My Puny Sorrows
Miriam Toews is a Canadian writer who grew up in a Mennonite community in Manitoba, Canada. Her Mennonite background informs her work (she left the community at 18 to attend college). Her sixth novel — All My Puny Sorrows — is the tale of a a Mennonite family that has much in common with her own. Toews’s sister, Marjorie, committed suicide in 2010, nearly 12 years after her father’s death by suicide. The book traces these outlines.
“In a sense, yes, talking about the book does help me keep my sister alive and helps me to relive my life with her,” Towes explained. “But talking about AMPS, conversely, also helps me to let her go peacefully, to sort of ‘redo’ her death. Her leave-taking. I can process it, think about it, draw it out, and cushion the shock. I’m not sure I hoped for that to happen, by writing this book, but I’m grateful that it did, or does.”
All My Puny Sorrows is the tale of two Mennonite sisters: Elfrieda (Elf) and Yoli. Elf is a renowned pianist and suicidal; her younger sister, Yoli, is a struggling novelist. After Elf tries to commit suicide, Yoli goes to be by her side, once again. It took me a few tries to get into the book, but once I did, I loved it. The dynamic between the sisters feel so real and natural, and you understand the pain Yoli is going through as she sees her sister struggle with suicide once again.
Toews explains the main plot of the book: “The conventional wisdom is, obviously, that we try to keep the people we love alive. Elfrieda wants nothing more than to die, and she’s hoping that Yoli will understand this, and help her to die. Of course Yoli is resistant to this. The bulk of the book is Yoli trying to figure out what she’s supposed to do, which comes to that central question: how do I best love my sister?”
Rating: ★★★★ Get it here.