Read All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews Online


Miriam Toews is beloved for her irresistible voice, for mingling laughter and heartwrenching poignancy like no other writer. In her most passionate novel yet, she brings us the riveting story of two sisters, and a love that illuminates life. You won’t forget Elf and Yoli, two smart and loving sisters. Elfrieda, a world-renowned pianist, glamorous, wealthy, happily married:Miriam Toews is beloved for her irresistible voice, for mingling laughter and heartwrenching poignancy like no other writer. In her most passionate novel yet, she brings us the riveting story of two sisters, and a love that illuminates life. You won’t forget Elf and Yoli, two smart and loving sisters. Elfrieda, a world-renowned pianist, glamorous, wealthy, happily married: she wants to die. Yolandi, divorced, broke, sleeping with the wrong men as she tries to find true love: she desperately wants to keep her older sister alive. Yoli is a beguiling mess, wickedly funny even as she stumbles through life struggling to keep her teenage kids and mother happy, her exes from hating her, her sister from killing herself and her own heart from breaking.  But Elf’s latest suicide attempt is a shock: she is three weeks away from the opening of her highly anticipated international tour. Her long-time agent has been calling and neither Yoli nor Elf’s loving husband knows what to tell him. Can she be nursed back to “health” in time? Does it matter? As the situation becomes ever more complicated, Yoli faces the most terrifying decision of her life. 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. In her beautifully rendered new novel, Miriam Toews gives us a startling demonstration of how to carry on with hope and love and the business of living even when grief loads the heart....

Title : All My Puny Sorrows
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780345808004
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 321 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

All My Puny Sorrows Reviews

  • Ron Charles
    2019-02-24 03:41

    The story of Brittany Maynard, the terminally ill woman in Oregon who committed suicide earlier this month after making her intention public, forces us to consider — or repress — wrenching questions about how life ends. As that discussion continues in homes, legislatures and places of worship, please make room for “All My Puny Sorrows,” by Canadian writer Miriam Toews.I’ve been in love with Toews since 2004, when she published “A Complicated Kindness,” a wincingly funny story about a 16-year-old girl trapped in a small Mennonite town. Her next book, “The Flying Troutmans,” drove us through comedy and pathos on a strange family road trip. And now comes this unbearably sad, improbably witty novel inspired by the suicides of her father and only sister. This is the story of a little group — “a tainted family, deranged” — that revolves around a woman determined to kill herself.I know, I know, what could sound less appealing than an almost plotless novel about the grinding stone of suicidal depression? Even the narrator’s mom says she has had it with novels about sad protagonists. “Okay, she’s sad!” she exclaims. “We get it, we know what sad is, and then the whole book is basically a description of the million and one ways in which our protagonist is sad. Gimme a break! Get on with it!”And yet, Canadians have pushed “All My Puny Sorrows” up the bestseller list. The novel was a finalist for the Giller Prize, and last week it won the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize. Those readers and critics up north are responding to the alchemy of Toews’s storytelling, which looks so deceptively modest on the surface. In the crucible of her genius, tears and laughter are ground into some magical elixir that seems like the essence of life.In the opening pages of “All My Puny Sorrows,” we meet the Von Riesen sisters, restless adolescents in East Village, a Mennonite community established as “a godly refuge from the vices of the world.” (“Our old Sunday school teacher told us that she loved us but that God loved us more. We told her to try harder.”) Their father is “an oddball, a quiet depressive, studious guy who . . . believed that reading and writing and reason were the tickets to paradise.” That heretical attitude puts him constantly at odds with the censorious leaders of the town.Even more troublesome, his older daughter, Elfrieda — nicknamed “Elf” — is a brilliant iconoclast who quotes romantic poetry and drives the church “elders into paroxysms of rage and fear.” Her younger sister, Yolandi — nicknamed “Yoli” — narrates the novel from a position of baffled adoration. Yoli confesses that she was “very often looking around for solid clues to what was going on and never finding them.” But whatever her beautiful older sister does seems dazzling — from literally painting the town red to pounding out Rachmaninoff on the family’s forbidden piano.Thirty years later, everything about Elf’s promising adolescence has come to fruition: She’s a world-renowned musician with a partner who loves her. So how could she end up strapped to a hospital bed in a psych ward, with a history of suicide attempts?That’s the question — the unfathomable mystery of the noonday demon — that Yoli struggles to answer throughout this novel. Why can’t Elf appreciate her blessed life? Is she poisoned by the genetic twist that drove their father to jump in front of a train? Is she haunted by the suffering of their ancestors who were murdered a century ago in Siberia? What keeps a successful, beloved, otherwise healthy person stranded in the darkness at noon?All Yoli knows is that her sister had “never adjusted to the light, she’d just never developed a tolerance for the world.” Too sane to incarcerate, too deceptive to trust, Elf is that cursed patient who doesn’t want to get better, who feigns cooperation but skips her appointments, stops taking her meds and finally opens a vein or steps into traffic or resorts to any one of a number of infernal methods of self-destruction. To the truly determined, all the world’s a razor’s edge. Who are we to intervene?The novel’s self-deprecating title comes from a poem that Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote to Charles Lamb in 1794, describing his unflagging grief:I too a sister had, an only sister —She loved me dearly, and I doted on her!To her I pour’d forth all my puny sorrows.Having rejected the Mennonite tradition and its “squad of perpetual disapprovers,” Yoli and Elf have feasted on a world of literature. “We were a word family,” Yoli says. In fact, the novel is laced with literary references, from Italo Calvino, William Wordsworth, Mary Shelley, Raymond Chandler and John Clare, to D.H. Lawrence and even A.A. Milne. But nowhere can Elf find a balm for her anguish.There are conversations in this novel so heartbreaking that you will be tempted to recoil, but Toews is working near the emotional territory of Lorrie Moore, where humor is a bulwark against despair. Informed that among her many other problems, her house is infested with carpenter ants, Yoli quips, “Good. Put them to work rebuilding the broken door.” Yes, this harrowingly autobiographical novel sounds a bit “Harold and Maude,” but there’s little black comedy. Instead, Toews mines the frustration and absurdity of caring for someone set on self-destruction. From her own experience, she portrays the shocking indifference and ineffectuality of some mental-health-care practitioners. But what really confounds her is the depressive’s maddening self-absorption, a mind trapped in that mesmeric hall of mirrors where every affirmation of hope looks ridiculous and the only pathway seems to spiral downward.The story, though, is always Yoli’s. She’s the one left sucking on the irony of her successful sister’s “weariness of life.” She wants to shout, “Listen! If anyone’s gonna kill themselves it should be me.” After all, by most standards, Yoli is the failed sibling: no money, no job, no spouse, and a sputtering career as a writer of horsey young-adult novels. “I stare out the window,” she says, “and reflect on the similarity between writing and saving a life and the inevitable failure of one’s imagination and one’s goals and ambitions to create a character or a life worth saving.”In the end, Yoli knows she can’t make that decision for anyone else, but that’s no relief from the paradox of her relationship with her sister: “She wanted to die and I wanted to live and we were enemies who loved each other.” Between those distant poles, Toews hangs a tale about the unspeakable pain and surprising joy of persisting in the world, puny sorrows and all.This review first appeared in The Washington Post:

  • Eve
    2019-02-24 02:39

    "Where does the violence go, if not directly back into our blood and bones?" I'm not sure what to write about this book. It's equally ironic, sad and humorous. I listened to the audible version of this book, and could really feel the conversational style of the writing. My only regret is the timing.I knew this was going to be a sad story. I had read this was semi-autobiographical, and touched on themes about Toews's religious upbringing as a Mennonite, as well as the tragic relationships she had with both her father and sister. I planned this read during a time when I was especially upbeat and jovial.Then things changed overnight. I lost one grandmother a month ago, and spent this past week in the hospital waiting for news about my beloved maternal grandmother. I couldn't bring myself to finish the last two hours of the book until today, after my grandmother was sent home under orders from hospice. After her long battle with ALS, something as "puny" as a bedsore will have the last word. It's ironic, just like this book.Although mental illness and its "violence" torture the sufferer, its effects are always far-reaching. Grief, guilt, sorrow, anxiety, anger and depression are all natural things humans experience when they lose a loved one. What compels a person to take their life? Why are some individuals so stubbornly optimistic despite crappy hands they're dealt in life, while others have the world and are gifted beyond compare, and yet suffer tremendously with each renewed day of life? This is a wonderfully personal novel, and I'm glad Toews deemed us a worthy audience."Ours is essentially a tragic age, so we refuse to take it tragically. The cataclysm has happened, we are among the ruins, we start to build up new little habitats, to have new little hopes. It is rather hard work: there is now no smooth road into the future: but we go round, or scramble over the obstacles. We've got to live, no matter how many skies have fallen." - D. H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterley's Lover

  • Julie Christine
    2019-02-25 07:55

    During a tearful eulogy at a funeral service, a toddler boy wobbles up to the altar and begins to eat his great-grandmother’s ashes from the memorial urn. This scene is so emblematic of this luminous, adorable, wrenching book. Miriam Toews balances perfectly between giggles and sorrow—keeping the reader off-kilter yet never once losing control of her narrative. All My Puny Sorrows is a tragedy that uses humor to convey a deep sense of humanity. That a novel with suicide as a theme can be rich with irresistible silliness is its central brilliance. Toews invites us in, allows us to love her characters, but shuts the door firmly on mawkish displays of sentimentality. Elfriede “Elf” Von Riesen is a celebrated concert pianist who has battled severe depression throughout her adult life. The story opens with brief flashback to the early 1980s and the small Mennonite community in rural Manitoba where Elf and her younger sister Yolandi “Yoli” were raised. Then we are in present-day Winnipeg, where Elf has survived her latest suicide attempt just weeks before a concert tour is set to open. The plot of All My Puny Sorrows can be thinly described as Yoli’s attempts to keep her sister alive and her inner struggle to deny Elf’s pleas to end her emotional pain forever. "She wanted to die and I wanted her to live and we were enemies who loved each other.” Yoli’s voice is rich with irony and self-deprecation and carries a fierce but tender love for her mother, sister, her son and daughter, her friends.Depression seems hard-wired into one half of this small family: Elf and Yoli’s delicate, introverted father stepped in front of a train a few years before the present narrative. But Yoli and her mother, wise-cracking, sloppy, determinedly, vibrantly present, are built from different stuff.Where her sister is a prodigy, Yoli is a fuck-up. Two marriages almost behind her (she can’t quite bring herself to sign the divorce papers to end the latest), she maintains half-hearted affairs with two other men. A modestly successful writer of rodeo romances, she carries around her latest manuscript—a first attempt at literary fiction—in a plastic grocery sack. Embarrassed by her own work, she agrees to read only the first letter of the novel to Elf: “L”. Elf declares it a triumph. The connection between the sisters is gorgeously, fully rendered in flashbacks and present-day tenderness. It is a breathtaking revelation of sibling angst and unconditional love. And a work of fiction based on Toews’ own tragedies: her father and her sister committed suicide in the decade before she wrote the novel. A reader berated Miriam Toews for not telling us why Elfriede Von Riesen is depressed. A facepalm-worthy criticism. As if somehow the problem sat just off-stage and if we knew what it was, the mystery of this talented, wealthy, beautiful woman who wants so desperately to end her life could have been solved without having to put the reader through such an existential crisis. Criticism like this shows how far we have to go in understanding mental illness. Depression is not sadness. Depression is not the blues. It is not a temporary state that if one tries just a little harder, looks on the bright side, chins up and offers the world a little gratitude, it will all be okay. Toews does not try to answer the question of why Elf is suicidal. For there are a thousand whys churning in the biological, genetic, environmental, chemical stew pot that shapes our brains, our moods, our ability to resist, to move forward, to hang on. Instead, she shows the frustration of loved ones who are bewildered and angry in the face of inexplicable sorrow. Toews also shows the hapless approach by some medical practitioners—their inability to solve mental illness becomes indifference and exasperation toward the patient and guarantees despair for the family, who have nowhere else to turn. Despite its heavy premise, All My Puny Sorrows is life-affirming, full of joy and (wincing, at times), humor. It is a shout-out to possibility and hope. It is a novel that makes me want to read everything Toews has written.

  • Kiley
    2019-02-22 02:55

    I loved this book hard. All My Puny Sorrows is both incredibly moving and a page turner, because despite so much talk of death, there is so much LIFE in this book. So much painful, magnificent life, and so much love. The book has a pulse, which strengthens and weakens with perfect pacing so you get a little time to breathe before the next plunge into the characters' dilemmas. One of my favourite parts of the book is when the narrator (Yolandi) moves from resignation to anger – flailing, explosive anger that leaps off the page. Toews manages the transition so masterfully, it's nuts. Also: somehow she conveys Yolandi's almost-drowning in her sister's predicament as well as her steely resolve to reclaim her own life and happiness. Also: Toews is brilliantly funny, delivering it right when you least expect it, without fanfare, and to great effect. This one's going to stay with me.

  • Jen
    2019-03-01 05:49

    This was a wonderfully written book. Yet, as well as it was written, it was also a heavy read I had to put down frequently and take a step back from. It's a story about 2 sisters who love each other dearly, Elfrieda and Yoli. And as much as that love runs through the novel, it's not strong enough to defy the feelings of depression and darkness one sister feels, to the point of trying to commit suicide several times. It's Yoli's story and her struggle with guilt for not being able to pull her sister from the darkness of despair. This was an exhausting and at times a seemingly endless, emotional roller coaster; it's raw. Having never suffered from depression myself, it's hard to imagine how anyone can feel so dispirited when surrounded by people who have an abundance of love and time and are willing to do anything, including putting their own lives on hold, to pull someone out of a place that is so desolate. I think Toews did an amazing job in capturing the helplessness that surrounds depression: not only for those who suffer from it, but for the loved ones who are also impacted by this mental illness. 4 stars.

  • Diane S ☔
    2019-03-23 06:50

    The bonds of sisterhood and the struggles of depression and suicide are fully explored in this brilliant story. Yolanda and Elfrida are sisters, originally living in a Mennonite community in the east end. Depression runs in their family, something both Elf and her father suffer from. It is a novel about love, loss, and living told with wry and ironic humor. Yolanda is a wonderfully flawed and self-deprecating character, trying to keep her sister alive, while managing or not managing her own life.. She has amazing and amusing insights and opinions on many things. Their mother is another amazing character and it is easy to see where Yolanda got her sense of humor. Elfrida is a concert pianist, but we hear very little directly from her, most of what we know we get from Yolanda or other characters. She has struggled long and hard.So if someone says, "Isn't this book just sad?" I would have to say no, it is so much more. It is funny, celebrates books and poetry, Coleridge's poem is where the title come froms. Celebrates love and how much we will do for love. It is survival, and how we keep on living, finding tiny moments of joy, in which to hold. I never thought I would be reading a book that had me sniffling one second and in the next laughing. A book that holds the joy of living, right next to the face of mental illness. If you loved Me Before You, this book should suit as well.

  • Elyse
    2019-03-12 05:36

    A laughing moment... Yoli says to her sister Elf that she's a terrible wife ... she tells her sister she cheated on her husband and is just a whore. Elf... Being who 'she' is, says... "Haven't I taught you anything"? "there is no such thing as a whore".I smiled reading this!Toews writing is' richness.... (deeply satisfying as a reader to be in the care of this author) A very sad story.... told with tenderness... and spunky style....starting from the first page...( the family's house is driving away), to the final acknowledgments .....Elf was gifted.....talented....brilliant.....complicated. It was hard for Elf to be Elf. We love her and miss her too!Yoli's love for her sister so beautiful it hurts. We love her too! Thanks Esil.... For sharing 'your' experience with me of this book. I, too, would like to read more books written by Miriam Toews!

  • Paul Bryant
    2019-02-27 03:34

    This novel dares you not to love it. It’s so awfully horribly unremittingly sad yet open-hearted and quirky and forlorn and it wags its tail furiously, all the time. This novel is all about suicide, to be or not to be. In this case, the genius concert pianist sister has opted for NOT TO BE and the narrator is trying to put the case for TO BE. And it’s kind of not a novel either, it’s a the high-end literary version of the misery memoir, like Ugly by Constance Briscoe (her mother sued over that one, and lost : or A Million Little Pieces by James Frey, which started out as a best selling memoir and then got exposed as a million big lies and then got repackaged as a novel and went straight to the top of the fiction charts, you have to love that. Because I find out this book is closely based on events in Miriam Toews’ real life. I recently read Girl, Interrupted - and I watched My Sister’s Keeper too. And some other movies I ended up watching recently like Maps to the Stars, Requiem for a Dream, The Motel Life, Shame, the Three Colours trilogy and Miss Violence have been all in the same ball park too. And you know, they’re all good movies (apart for Maps to the Stars – David Cronenberg, what were you thinking?). AMPS might even be a good novel, but it was so drenched in tears and sodden with unrequited longing and remorse that it was hard to make out. It disintegrated in my hands. I tried reading it with a hairdryer blowing on each page but still they came apart. All the other reviewers in the world five star this. They’re made of sterner stuff or maybe their copies were printed on thicker paper. After page 135 I couldn’t take it any more. AMPS was where I got overdosed. Too much is too much. I’m going to put a Leonard Cohen record on for some light relief now. Dance me to the end of love, Leonard.

  • Larry H
    2019-03-01 00:56

    So if you're thinking a book called All My Puny Sorrows is going to be a bit of a downer, you're definitely right, but the talent of Miriam Toews is definitely something to behold despite the harrowing nature of the book.Elf (Elfrieda) and Yoli (Yolandi) are sisters and best friends. Growing up in a Mennonite community outside of Winnipeg, they were tremendously close as they united against the way the community's elders treated women and tried to marginalize Elf's talent playing the piano. They also tried to understand the mood swings of their father, a gentle man who felt desperately passionate about so many things.As adults, on the surface Elf leads a glamorous life—she has a devoted husband and a successful career as a renowned concert pianist, while Yoli has been divorced twice and is struggling to cope with raising her two children as they approach adulthood, as well as financial, romantic, and career difficulties. Yet Elf suffers from a crushing depression and desperately wants to end her life, although her attempts have all ended in failure."It was the first time that we had sort of articulated our major problem. She wanted to die and I wanted her to live and we were enemies who loved each other."What Yoli wants is for Elf to finally get the treatment she so desperately needs, so she can finally enjoy her life and once again be the passionate, highly intelligent person Yoli knows and loves. And more than that, Yoli really wants her confidante again, wants someone to help guide her out of the mess that she is making with her life and help her regain the confidence she needs to move her writing career in a different direction. But despite the love of her husband, her family, and her fans, all Elf really wants is to die, so her suffering can end.As hard as Yoli fights to change Elf's mind about dying, Elf fights just as hard to convince Yoli to help her end her life. How do you convince someone you love that their life is worth living when they are unable to see that for themselves? Is it our responsibility to help those we care about end their suffering?I've never read anything by Miriam Toews before, but I was truly wowed by her ability to inhabit these characters. This is an incredibly moving book about the toll depression and suicide have not only on the person struggling, but on those who care about them. It's also a story about finding the strength to carry on when it feels like you have nothing left, and everything seems to be going against you.This is a hard book to read because of the emotional nature of the subject matter and the suffering that the characters endure (and I've only scratched the surface in my description), but Toews' prose is so lyrical, almost poetic at times, and it truly immerses you in the story. At times it got a bit difficult because the hits kept on coming, and it was hard to watch Yoli make such a mess of her own life at the same time, but the beauty and power of Toews' writing compels you to soldier on.See all my reviews (and other stuff) at http://itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blo....

  • Jennifer (aka EM)
    2019-03-12 01:50

    If someone you loved wanted you to help them die to avoid unavoidable pain, would you? If you knew they would find a way to do it no matter what, and that way would be painful, and terrifying, and they would be all alone, would you? If they asked you directly, more than once; if it was the one, single thing they wanted from you and it was within your power to give, would you?Does the fact that the unavoidable pain is psychological not physical in origin change your mind? These are the questions at the heart of Miriam Toews' All My Puny Sorrows: a work of fiction. This work of fiction is receiving a massive number of accolades. And I love, I mean LOVE, Miriam Toews and all that she writes. Let me go on record saying that. I've read all her fiction.So I can say this:AMPS is the book that Toews needed to write, and it's the book that all of her previous work was leading her to write.AMPS deserves all the accolades* it's receiving, and so does Toews, but this is not her 'best' work - if by best you want to rank them in some kind of hierarchy of literary quality. Because:AMPS is not a work of fiction.**AMPS is also not the book I would recommend starting with for those new to Toews.**** These accolades are kind of like an Oscar awarded for an actor's minor roles just because she's widely regarded as brilliant but has been overlooked. That's not to say this is a minor work. Nor that Toews is not a well-awarded Canadian author. Despite these awards, however (which include Rogers Writers' Trust x 2; Governor General x 1; Canada Reads; Giller noms x 2; many more), she remains under-the-radar for many Canadians, and certainly most Americans. AMPS is poised right now to be her breakthrough book in terms of the U.S. market, at which point it circles back and those Canadians who don't know who she is will find out about her. And I have some serious doubts about this - and feel a little concerned that this will be the book that many new to Toews will read first. (see ***)** Toews' entire body of work (for which she has received the Findley/Engel Award - she's also received the Margaret Laurence Award for fiction, and failing Atwood and Munro having Canadian writing awards named after them, that's enough to tell you where she sits within the Canadian literary establishment), includes fiction, memoir, biography and journalism. This book is all of those genres. As fiction, this book is different to Toews' others in a lot of ways. The humour is toned down, much darker, and the sadness ramped up. The dialogue is much more intellectual, less whimsical. The characters—even tho' Yoli is a self-defined basket-case (and I don't think she really is)—are more 'mainstream' successful, more fully-dimensional photographic, and less character-sketchy portrait. The book is less Winnipeg/Mennonite, more Toronto/international. The literary, musical and artistic pursuits of the characters are all more 'high-brow' (even though Yoli has built her career on cowgirl rodeo YA novels, she has a "real" novel in the works which she carries around with her in a Safeway grocery bag). The whole tone, as a result of these differences in combination, is different. As fiction, the book continues the sisters theme that is so prominent in her other major works: A Complicated Kindness; The Flying Troutmans; and Irma Voth.But this book reads more as memoir: Toews the writer is in this book in a way that she's not in these other three. AMPS is directly about Toews' relationship with her sister, and the request her sister made of her. She's been up-front about that in every interview she's done. It's also about her mom and Toews' relationship with her. And of course, about her dad and his legacy. It's about how he and her suicidal sibling defined the family's dynamics. It's about those dynamics. The book is also journalism, adding material to the debate and fitting in with the discourse around assisted suicide. This is a big issue in Canada (as elsewhere); right-to-die legislation passed in Quebec in mid-2014 has brought it to the fore. I'd say that Toews has been deliberate in the timing of this work within the context of this ongoing public debate. AMPS is not the work of a writer early in her career creating characters and a novel from her real-life experience with perhaps a little less subtlety, or too much transparency, than is required. This is a master writer, a literary powerhouse in full control of her pen, creating something NEW. Some hybrid of fiction/non-fiction.*** If you don't know/haven't read much Toews, my recommendation is: do not start here. You're going to get the wrong impression of who she is, what her fiction is and does. You may not see the humour, or feel the incredible love and compassion every single one of her characters has for each other. The humour and love in her work is ... it's everything. It's here, too, but it's subtle and sometimes overshadowed. You've got to make your way through the book; you've got to trust her to lead you there. She will, she does. But you have to trust her, and if you haven't read much of her - you might not.If you have read her (at minimum, A Complicated Kindness and either or both Irma Voth and The Flying Troutmans), then read this. You might not love it as much, for any number of reasons, as her others. But I bet you will be left in awe, in freaking absolute AWE - at her artistry. At her accomplishment. At her astounding generosity - the gift she is giving us with this novel.Because this is not fiction. This is something so much more.__________________________________ETA: About those accolades.Jared Bland in The Globe & Mail: When her mother asks her why the teenage heroines in her rodeo novels are all so sad, if their struggles are because Yoli has so much sadness in her, she has a simple answer: “no, no, everyone has all that sadness in them.”And that is the book’s great gift: its reminder that feeling such things is normal. In a world where everyone has that sorrow in them – which is to say, a world like ours – we find permission to embrace that sadness, rather than a rallying cry to escape it. And we witness the possibility of making a life that can accommodate incredible intimacy without denying the fundamental bleakness of existence.- - - - - - - - - -Stevie Davies in The Guardian: I can think of no precedent for the darkly fizzing tragicomic jeu d'esprit that is Miriam Toews's sixth novel. Its compulsive readability is all the more remarkable since the story issues from such a dark place in the author's heart. ... Can a work of mourning be a comedy? Uniquely, Toews has created a requiem with an antic disposition.- - - - - - - - - -Ron Charles in The Washington Post:In the crucible of [Toews'] genius, tears and laughter are ground into some magical elixir that seems like the essence of life.- - - - - - - - - -Catherine Taylor in The Telegraph: Elf is so thin that Yoli believes she can see the outline of her heart: Toews’s great generosity as a writer is to have opened up her own and shared it with us.- - - - - - - - - -Andreas Vatiliotou in The Puritan Magazine: Toews achieves with this novel what so few are able to do: she fearlessly “organizes her sadness through writing” to generate a wealth of insight, and provide consolation to, and kinship with, those of us who share her experience. Rarely does one sit with a novel and feel the presence of the author so acutely—an author who refuses to point a finger accusingly at life or death, but ponders the insurmountable question of why we choose one over the other, and provides a complex, if not resolute, defense in support of either choice. There is no judgment or blame in All My Puny Sorrows—only a love letter to sisterhood, and a heartfelt goodbye.- - - - - - - - - -

  • jo
    2019-02-27 05:51

    well i finished it. this is who i think should read this book: peter and emilie. i'll recommend it to them with the GR recommendation tool. also julie, because reading miriam toews helps you write. yesterday i wrote this book had tremendous levity and it does! it really does! but fuck man fuck fuck fuck it's all the sads and all the heartbreaks packed into one little book made out of levity. i can relate exactly none at all to the main themes of the book, i.e. 1. sisterhood and 2. worrying about someone's killing themselves on you and not knowing whether to let them go or keep them alive when their life is unadulterated misery, for all sorts of personal reasons that are too personal even for me to disclose here. but i can relate to the heartlessness and preachiness and horribleness of psychiatric wards and THANK YOU ms. toews for telling the world that psychiatrists and psychiatric nurses are for the most part asshats. and i can relate to losing someone and missing the fuck out of them, especially today, for some strange alignment of stars and planets, because the family of a dear friend who recently died is visiting the states and it's so sad to think of them, father and two teenage kids, driving their little hearts out from state to state and beautiful place to beautiful place and having to keep themselves from bawling their eyes out because mom is not here and she won't be home when they go back either. i miss their mom too, in fact i'm pretty incredulous that she's gone, and i want her back kind of badly, so, yeah, all the sads. but i didn't shed a single tear in the reading of this book and i laughed out loud so, so much. so this is what this book may do for you, let you grieve and laugh, both at the same time. and then when you put it down you might not be able to do much of anything at all, which is exactly like the narrator, yoli, who can do so little she can only read books and drink booze and fuck strangers, only one of which i recommend. -----i am still reading so this is not a review, but: because of my history and psychological makeup, and because i have a cold cold heart, i cannot connect to the plight of someone trying to keep someone they love alive, but:this book is carrying me on the sole strength of its amazing writing, which:you won't probably appreciate unless (as jakaem said somewhere in her review) you have read a couple of books by this author. the voice of the narrator is brain scattered, fucked up, pained, and hilarious, and you will miss a lot of it if you don't know that toews can do other, much different voices. it is the perfect tone for this book, in order for it not to be devastating, for it to be what it is, that is: a masterpiece of levity. and maybe you won't find levity in it, because a) you haven't read other books by toews b) you care about keeping alive people you love and c) you have a warm warm heart. and maybe, on occasion, you will find the language a bit throwaway-ish. so, at least, believe me when i say that: toews writes with the language of the angels. if the words are on the book, they belong there. fully. they are the only words that should be there. but no: because the language of the angels is so perfect that it transcends uniqueness. it is generous. so yeah, substitute any word and it won't matter. it's a book written by angels. it stands alone, cloudy, towering, eventually raining soft winnipeg rain.

  • Petra
    2019-03-10 07:48

    Beautifully told. This is a heartfelt, touching story. Every page tells a loving story of a wonderful relationship between two close, loving sisters. Their love for each other shines through always. They each wanted only what was best for the other. The agonizing decision comes when deciding what "the best" means and how to define it in a meaningful, caring, understanding way. Miriam Toews has such grace and stamina. Her love and sorrow for her sister is always present and never once does she forget the gift of her sister. (view spoiler)[ RIP, Marjorie. Live well and be happy, Miriam. (hide spoiler)]

  • Chrissie
    2019-03-09 04:57

    For me this book was amazing. Usually books of fiction fall short for me, and so when I run across one that is superb I want to give it the acclaim I think it deserves. It was a roller-coaster ride. Very, very sad and then when I couldn’t stand another second the author had me laughing. The humor is ironic. We laugh and cry at today's world. The humor focuses upon our whole contemporary lifestyle. We have made such medical advances and yet our medical institutions fail us. Why? It has to be us humans that are doing something wrong. Cellphones make us accessible 24/24, right? Yeah, except that our phones are always turned off. Sure we have sophisticated telephone switchboards, but when you are trying to get ahold of someone you never can. There is a conversation with a nurse through a hospital’s switchboard that is sure to crack you up. I promise you, when you read this you will recognize snapshots from your own lifeSuicide is a choice. In choosing, we must evaluate the beauty and wonder of life as well as all the hardships it brings. But do we choose, or is it that one's propensity to choose suicide over life is in fact in our genes? It was this question that made me pick up the book, but I never guessed that the writing would so emotionally draw me in. The author’s lines knocked me over. She does this with her choice of words. Words are important. In fact this is also a theme of the novel. Authors and poets and music are referred to – Virginia Woolf and D.H. Lawrence and Wordsworth and Goethe and Percy Bysshe Shelley, to name but a few. Through the author’s words important themes are explored, humor is drawn, and the characters come alive. Each one’s personality feels genuine.This book let me experience the deep bond that can grow between sisters. I don’t have one. So that is what sisterhood is all about!The audiobook narration by Erin Moon is s-t-u-p-e-n-d-o-u-s! You recognize immediately who is speaking and the tone she uses for each is pitch-perfect. Each character is given a voice that magnificently matches their personality. The narration is as tremendous as the author’s written words. I am not going to say the narration improves the book, because the lines are fantastic in themselves, but if you choose to listen then choose this narrator.I wholeheartedly recommend this book to everyone. It covers important issues. It will move you. It contains humor, deep sorrow and excellent writing. ************************I must say the very last couple of pages confused me. (view spoiler)[Had Yoli gone to Zurich with Elf, and did Elf then change her mind? Did the two take a trip we were not told of? This is the only explanation I can draw from the final lines. We are told Elf committed suicide by throwing herself in front of a train, just as her father had. At an earlier point in the book, Yoli wonders if Elf understood Yoli just didn't have the guts to take her sister to Switzerland where euthanasia was legally permitted. Why would she think that if she had taken her there? Did they go or didn’t they? Maybe Yoli is just thinking of what it might have been like if they had gone.(hide spoiler)] Well anyhow, my confusion at the end in no way lowered my appreciation of the book.**************************ETA: I had no idea that this book had biographical content, until my dear friend Petra told me! Petra also gave me the two links which I think are important for those who have read the book. They may be considered spoilers.- - you, Petra!

  • Will
    2019-03-25 07:44

    Christ, this is a hard book to read. At once profoundly moving and deeply painful, but still witty, ironic and extremely funny in places. The narrator, Yoli (Yolanda) sees herself as a middle-aged fuckup who desperately needs her older sister Elf (Elfrieda) -- an internationally-famous concert pianist with what seems like a perfect life -- as her life preserver. But that’s the irony: Yoli is the survivor, a tough, sardonic and caring woman with a rather chaotic life but not a fuckup at all; for sure there is a lot of pain in her life - her father’s suicide (which had happened some ten years earlier and is an ever-present background here), two failed relationships and a child from each, yet she does in fact have, if not a perfect life, at least one with a lot going for it – a close relationship with her children, mother and friends; where Elf is in a stable, loving marriage but is unable to cope with the huge black hole of depression and self-hatred that her talent can’t fill. Her green eyes are replicas of my father’s, spooky and beautiful and unprotected from the raw bloodiness of the worldAt the start of the novel Elf has already tried to commit suicide a couple of times. While she is in hospital, their aunt Tina has a cardiac incident and is hospitalized too. Toews brilliantly contrasts the difference in care between physical and mental illness – Tina’s surgeons and nurses are sympathetic and committed no matter what her condition, but in the psych ward there’s more contempt than compassion from the overworked staff over Elf’s failed suicide, and she has to want to get better to even be considered for rehabilitation. But rejecting help is part of her condition – the medical staff simply need her to be less ill than she actually is before they have anything to offer. What would this team do with her? she asked. What would Elf do with the team? Make lists? Set goals? Embrace life? Start a journal? Turn that frown upside down?Yoli is stressed beyond compare when Elf pleads with her to help end her life because she doesn’t want to die alone – on one level Yoli is horror-struck but she also begins to wonder whether and how she could actually make it happen. The stress is unbearable. I hate you too, I said. It was the first time we had sort of articulated our major problem. She wanted to die and I wanted her to live and we were enemies who loved each other Elf is promised all kinds of help if she would only help herself first, and eventually she does - she games the system by pretending to come round to that idea, thus earning the “reward” of a day pass – and without the promised resource team of boosters and helpers that never materializes it leads to the inevitable conclusion where Elf kills herself in the same way her father did – under a train.Initially I found the ending, a sort of three-chapter epilogue, a bit flat; not because I am against moderately happy endings but it seemed like a too-rapid wrap-up of everyone’s reactions to Elf’s death. But then I realized it was entirely appropriate – life goes on for Yoli, her children, her mother and all the others who loved Elf. And she is still present in their lives, as reflected in the wonderfully moving letter that Yoli writes to Elf at the end of the novel. So although this is a work of fiction, it is also a penetrating look at the inadequacies and primitive state of medical practice for mental problems – not much better than surgery before antibiotics or even soap, really.And despite there being a whole lot of parallels with her own life, Toews succeeds in making this novel not sound autobiographical. I’m not sure how I know that but I think the language is part of it – simple, direct and powerful, as if Yoli were talking to us personally. What a book; and I haven’t really done justice to its many-layered complexity here.One last thing. If you are a self-confident go-getter with a can-do attitude; if when you’re “down” you give yourself a little pep talk; if you can’t relate to being overwhelmed by the blackness of depression or being paralyzed by self-hatred - well, good for you, but perhaps this 5-star book is not for you either; you’ll just think “way too melodramatic”.

  • Christine
    2019-03-14 08:38

    Miriam has become a friend, so I will have to file this under an appreciation rather than an impartial review, but I admired her work long before I met her. She has an inimitable voice that is wise and funny and always unflinching. I’ve seen her described as the ‘queen of voice’ but I think the ‘queen of heart’ is more accurate. In spite of terrible loss in her own family, she has a furious and abiding love of life that is apparent in every word she writes.This is a book I would have liked to devour in a sitting or two, but life circumstances prevented that. Shortly after I started reading it, my grandmother had a massive stroke. I read most of it as I sat by her, as I did every day after the stroke for a few hours a day, as she lay dying. That’s the kind of book this is. There is strength and courage in it, but there is an overarching acceptance of death that’s rare and beautiful. This is the book you want at a time of grief and sorrow. All My Puny Sorrows searches for meaning and connection while giving these qualities over as it does. The questions she raises are answers in their own right while remaining resolutely open. It's brilliant in conception and masterfully written. I was reminded of John Keats’ definition of ‘negative capability’ as I read, from a letter he wrote to his brothers in 1817: “At once it struck me, what quality went to form a Man of Achievement, especially in literature, and which Shakespeare possessed so enormously—I mean Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.”Toews has been candid about the autobiographical nature of this book (her beloved sister, whom Miriam had been trying to keep alive, succeeded in killing herself). In the book, Yolandi and Elfrieda assume the sisters’ roles with Elf as a brilliant, suicidal classical pianist and Yoli (whom Elf calls ‘Swivelhead’) as the loving, self-deprecating, and devastated novelist sister trying to save Elf from her own despair.The mood of the novel is somber and dark (how can a novel about imminent suicide not be?) but it’s punctuated with a wry humour that had me laughing aloud. How does she pull this off? She sees life for the grand parade of absurdity and beauty and tragedy that it is, and she can give this over on every page. Joy and humour coexist with sorrow and tragedy. There are no divisions.I’ve turned the corner of so many pages that there is too much to quote here, and this will be a book that I go to for its wisdom. But this is one of my favourites:‘My sister was a dark blur moving towards a rectangle of light. But now after hearing my mom’s survival dream I think maybe this is my survival dream and it’s not a nightmare. It’s the beginning of my own cure. Because to survive something we first need to know what it is we’re surviving.’

  • Rebecca Foster
    2019-02-26 07:54

    “She wanted to die and I wanted her to live and we were enemies who loved each other.” This is a powerful autobiographical novel about sisters and suicide. Hard to believe, but Toews even injects humor quite successfully, mostly through Yoli and Elf’s mother and aunt – another great pair of sisters. I enjoyed the peek into the Canadian Mennonite community, and was glad to extend my meager knowledge of Canadian authors in general. This was certainly a cathartic labor of love for the author; as Yoli says, “I reflect on the similarity between writing and saving a life and the inevitable failure of one’s create a character or a life worth saving.”If I have one criticism, it’s that, because the novel is from Yoli’s perspective, readers don’t always get a clear sense of Elf’s despair. Yes, you get lines like this: “She told me her loneliness was visceral, a sack of rocks she carried from one room to the next, city to city.” However, I might have liked a bit more from Elf herself, whether letters or stories or just more dialogue. The fact that there are no speech marks can make it seem like everything is in Yoli’s head, even when the words come from other people.“How do you go on?” Elf writes. As you come to the end of this sobering but enjoyable novel, you might question what it is that keeps you going and what it is that makes you want it all to be over. Toews makes good ironic use of the differences between her fictional sisters, but in the end it seems that it might be more a matter of luck than genetics. (view spoiler)[One sinks and one swims. One repeats their father’s death, and one keeps going past it. (hide spoiler)]Related reading: Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld

  • Tania
    2019-03-07 05:34

    She wanted to die and I wanted to live and we were enemies who loved each other.I can't remember when last I read a book that made me feel so sad. Even though the author is very witty and there are many funny scenes, the hopelessness and helplessness of the situation really got to me. Imagine someone you loved, your sister/child/parent, persistently tried to commit suicide and even asks for your assistance with this.I must admit I've always thought that suicide is something that you wanted to do at your lowest point, and then when you get help you get better, and you don't want to anymore. I never imagined this overwhelming, constant need to leave this world. All My Puny Sorrows really made me think what I would do in this situation, and there really is no answer. I loved Yolandi and her mom, I loved how humane and intelligent this was written, and I loved how deeply it made me feel. Not an easy book, but so worth it.

  • Lori Bamber
    2019-03-25 05:48

    As a novel, this is a beautiful, readable, mesmerizing book. As a balm for anyone who has ever lost a friend or loved one to suicide, it is a miracle. The always loving, skillful, funny Toews does something remarkable: she makes it possible to understand how someone can suffer so deeply, despite the absence of physical wounds, that they will even say goodbye to people who they know love them deeply and ceaselessly in order to end their pain. At the end, the questions I was left with were astonishing to me: Is it possible that there are times when the most loving thing we can do is say goodbye? When it is also the moral thing to do?This book belongs beside To Kill a Mockingbird and The Grapes of Wrath in its power to change our hearts and minds. And like them, it is a joy to read.

  • Kim
    2019-03-22 06:56

    This book was so dreadful, it's hard to know where to begin. I think, not wanting to waste any more time on this book than I already have, I will be very brief here. I was shocked to find that the book is based on experiences the author has actually had. When I first began reading it, I thought the author must really be stretching and writing about things she had no personal experience of, because of the startling lack of insight and authenticity in the characters' emotional responses. I think that sums up the main problem with the book. There is no character arc for any of the characters, despite the terrible experiences they go through. We learn nothing of why the sister is suicidal - in fact, the author seem insistent that there is no particular reason, and nobody is to blame for the sister's mental health, a Pollyanna attitude that really irritated me in it's falseness. We also get no insights into how the other sister's attitude toward assisted suicide may or may no be changing, or the emotional impact of the events on any of the characters. In fact, there is pretty much no description of emotions in this book at all.If you want a well-written and insightful book on the same theme, read the excellent 'View on the Way Down' by Rebecca Wait. Don't bother with the Toews attempt.

  • Dana
    2019-03-14 01:46

    “Every man has his secret sorrows which the world knows not; and often times we call a man cold when he is only sad.” ― Henry Wadsworth LongfellowThis is the best book I've read all year. The mastery of heart ripping is ripe in this. As someone who suffers from Depression it was interesting to read. The author really lets you see both sides of depression so well. On one hand I was on the families side and furious at Elf for being so damn selfish. Then by the next chapter I would be in Elf's corner yelling" Just let her go already!" For me this book made the topic of depression/suicide impossible to solve, and I kind of like it for that. Sometimes there is no right and wrong, there just is.Note: I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review.P.S- This title is perfection.

  • Mj
    2019-03-10 04:40

    I have read a lot of positive reviews and comments about Miriam Toews’ novels but until now have not read any of them. I now understand why so many people are impressed by her writing. I can’t put my finger on only one or two specific reasons that make her writing special. In All My Puny Sorrows I felt that it was a unique blend of many things that makes her writing exceptional.The fact that Toews has a wide following both within her home country of Canada and around the world demonstrates how highly many readers think of her work. The Sunday Times of the United Kingdom included All My Puny Sorrows as a Top Summer Read Choice in 2014 and the Los Angeles Times of the United States definitely put her in very good company with the following quote about All My Puny Sorrows: "Toews takes her place alongside Alice Munro, Robertson Davies, Margaret Atwood and Mordecai Richler as the loveliest quintet of Canadian writing." Lovely is a very appropriate term for Toews’ writing in All My Puny Sorrows. Her prose borders on poetry and she frequently makes lovely, lyrical word choices, often times quite beautiful, but also with laser like accuracy – like a needle lancing a puffed up, infected blister - quick, piercing and precise. Making just enough of a point to accomplish everything that needs to be done or described and yet happening so quickly and exactly, that it causes minimal pain or damage. A quote of Toews in this book “Go into hard things quickly, eagerly, then retreat” perhaps says it better. Toews writes pointed and necessary comments quickly and with enthusiasm. She gets the pain over with and then immediately retreats to a softer and often more humorous style that is heart-warming and engaging. Considering that a major theme of the book is a young woman wanting to commit suicide on her own or with the help of her very close younger sister – writing a heart-warming story is not an easy task. Toews demonstrates what an accomplished writer she is by getting readers to engage in a story about assisted suicide by reminiscing about the lives of everyone involved. In between the assisted suicide story is a love story, not only between two sisters but amongst an entire family. The family story engages us and then Toews writes something to make us stop, think and ponder the suicide issue. There is lots of love and wisdom in the book and Toews paces her writing well between two major themes – a story about the love of life and family and a story about one of this family’s members wanting to end her life. The two stories go back and forth. It’s as if we’re being rocked like babies softly in Toews arms’ – loving the gentleness and sweetness of the love story and then suddenly being held still by her, eyes locking so that we will ponder the more serious question she is asking. This book provided many moments and comments that caused me to smile and also to reflect.All My Puny Sorrows has poems, books and places interspersed throughout which help to fully develop the larger than life character of Elf, the sister who wanted to commit suicide. I found this information intriguing and it kept my interest. It also provided some relief and diversion from the suicide discussion. Toews is very adept at knowing when to discuss serious issues and when to provide lightness. I think her use of humour is one of her strongest writing skills. She uses it judiciously and appropriately. Often times the humour is unexpected which makes it even more effective. I suspect that we are seeing some of Toews’ own personality and humour in her characters. Each seems to view the world in a unique manner. I particularly enjoyed the characters of Elf’s younger sister Yoli and the quintessential mom Lottie. Both are very multi-faceted and felt very real to me. Toews used her gift of humour to bring these characters to life. For example Lottie (a mother full of realism and optimism and this is not an oxymoron) made a comment after she had stopped breathing and had been revived by the paramedics with the assistance of a defibrillator. Lottie’s spontaneous comment was “Wow! That’s enough to jar your mother’s preserves.” How can someone not love a woman with such spunk and positive outlook? Yoli has a great sense of humour as well which she seems to use as a coping mechanism. Her observations and humour are often times self deprecating. As a writer, which is her livelihood in the book, she frequently mentions very unique and unexpected ways of looking at things that are quirky and funny. Both Lottie and Yoli are wise women and while serious about many things, frequently offer the necessary comic relief to themselves and to readers in a story that otherwise have become quite depressing and maudlin if not handled so well by Toews.I am grateful to Toews for choosing the issue of mental illness when choosing to write about assisted suicide. Most real life and fictional stories and examples about assisted suicide seem to be about people suffering primarily from physical pain. In this story, Elf was suffering from mental anguish and pain. The reality that depression and mental illness can cause such intolerable pain to people that they want to end their lives is an important thing to know in a world that doesn’t seem to want to acknowledge mental illness, never mind discussing the issues and possible solutions.I wanted to rate the book 5 stars except for some minor issues. There was a time in the middle of the book that I felt things got slightly bogged down. I was also getting a bit tired of Elf’s incessant talk about committing suicide, her pain and her whole unhappiness with life. While at most times Elf’s personality, so full of vibrancy, story telling, imagining and creating was enjoyable and insightful to read about; occasionally it felt a bit overdone and inauthentic to me. Maybe this is incorrect judgment on my part. Nonetheless, for these reasons, I would have rated the book 4 1/2 stars if it was a Goodreads rating option. Since it isn’t I am rounding down.Will I read more of Toews? Most definitely. And you should too!!

  • Melanie
    2019-03-06 06:50

    "I’ve been in love with Toews since 2004, when she published “A Complicated Kindness,” a wincingly funny story about a 16-year-old girl trapped in a small Mennonite town. Her next book, “The Flying Troutmans,” drove us through comedy and pathos on a strange family road trip. And now comes this unbearably sad, improbably witty novel inspired by the suicides of her father and only sister. This is the story of a little group — “a tainted family, deranged” — that revolves around a woman determined to kill herself.I know, I know, what could sound less appealing than an almost plotless novel about the grinding stone of suicidal depression? Even the narrator’s mom says she has had it with novels about sad protagonists. “Okay, she’s sad!” she exclaims. “We get it, we know what sad is, and then the whole book is basically a description of the million and one ways in which our protagonist is sad. Gimme a break! Get on with it!”And yet, Canadians have pushed “All My Puny Sorrows” up the bestseller list. The novel was a finalist for the Giller Prize, and last week it won the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize. Those readers and critics up north are responding to the alchemy of Toews’s storytelling, which looks so deceptively modest on the surface. In the crucible of her genius, tears and laughter are ground into some magical elixir that seems like the essence of life."Ron Charles in The Washington PostI've also fallen in love with Miriam Toews. Only a stylistic magician and radically empathetic human being can tackle the infinitely delicate subject of suicide and manage to infuse it with more life force, pathos and humor than you can imagine. Her novel hums with despair and resilience. It is devastating and exalting at the same time and you never quite know exactly how she walks this tightrope without faltering.A novel that reminded me in spirit of Anthony Marra's "A Constellation of Vital Phenomena". Even though the stories have absolutely nothing in common, both writers are geniuses at fusing light and darkness in a single sentence.I don't want to say too much else about this heartbreaking, ravishing and unforgettable novel. If you haven't experienced it, you absolutely should.

  • Ace
    2019-02-28 05:50

    Miriam Toews, wow, what rock was I hiding under? She took me by the hand and held me tight through this amazing tale of love and grief. I laughed and cried my eyes out.

  • Jenny (Reading Envy)
    2019-03-21 04:54

    This book snuck up on me. About halfway through, the emotions felt too real, so I went poking around in the author's life. I hadn't read anything by Miriam Toews before, but apparently her earlier novels are well known in Canada, set in the Russian-immigrant Mennonite communities. This one is about a woman in her 40s, Yolandi, and her older sister who really wants to take her own life. This novel was written after the author's sister killed herself. In their Mennonite community, suicide is a frequent painful occurrence (her father also took his own life.) The fact that they are Mennonite is important in this novel too, and the author does explore the power of fleeing massacre in one country on the children of immigrants. This sounds like an incredibly sad story, but actually it isn't. Of course suicide is sad, and depression is difficult. But suicide attempts are also full of drudgery, and waiting in hospitals, and worrying about lapses in communication and arguing with a ridiculous medical system more interested in enforcing rules than helping a suicidal person (this book is a clear critique of the Canadian mental health system, not something I can really weigh in on.)The book sent me off on my own mental tangents. I worry, sometimes, about my own sisters. The author asks important questions like how much can you really do about family members in difficult situations? How far will you go to help someone? How do you preserve your own life within the chaos of family drama? Love doesn't prevent pain, in fact it can sometimes mean that the pain is shared, distributed. Toews is able to demonstrate this more than any author I've read. I've also found quite a few similarities to a Mennonite childhood to my own upbringing, and not just in this novel. The first time that happened I think was when I read Mennonite in a Little Black Dress: A Memoir of Going Home.Don't be thrown off by the ease of her storytelling that starts everything out, there is depth here.This is the second excellent book I've read from the 2014 ScotiaBank Giller Prize shortlist (the other was Us Conductors by Sean Michaels.) Clearly I need to read more Canadian lit - I think I may have found my country for 2016!Now for some wee quotations:This quote about libraries takes on a very bittersweet meaning in the end:"Yoli, she said, I'm just saying that apologies aren't the bedrock of civilized society. All right! I said. I agree. But what is the bedrock of civilized society? Libraries, said Elf.""Heck yeah do we ever know what sad is. Sadness is what holds our bones in place.""What you do at the pulpit would be considered lunatic behavior on the street. You can't go around terrorizing people and making them feel small and shitty and then call them evil when they destroy themselves.""Where does the violence go, if not directly back into our blood and bones?"

  • Jaylia3
    2019-03-15 07:57

    I always fall hard for the novels Miriam Toews writes and the characters she creates. A best selling author in Canada, most of her books involve individualistically inclined or exiled Mennonites balancing their traditional upbringing with the modern world in distinctive stories of personal struggle and family connection. The details about Mennonite culture and its fringes give the stories added interest and a strong sense of place, but it’s the characters that really set her novels apart.In All My Puny Sorrows one sister has it all. Elfrieda Von Riese has always been eccentric, passionate, talented and intense--a dances to her own drummer Mennonite--and now as an adult she’s a wealthy, beloved, beautiful, world acclaimed pianist in a wonderfully loving marriage, but in spite of all that goodness Elf is determined to kill herself, somehow never having developed a tolerance for living in the world. Her sister Yolandi, in contrast, is a twice divorced now single mother, drifting in and out of relationships and perennially broke, who desperately wants to keep Elf alive. “She wanted to die and I wanted her to live and we were enemies who loved each other.”It’s not a plotline that would normally attract me, and the story is more character than plot anyway, but Toews gives her characters such captivating, heart-piercing voices that I sank deep and only reluctantly put down this thoughtfully nuanced, non-condescending, family celebrating book. The title comes from a poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

  • Jennifer
    2019-03-07 01:46

    miriam toews is one of my most favourite writers, and this new novel is fantastic. FANTASTIC! while we are in familiar territory - a mennonite family not quite doing the mennonite thing 'right', according to their small mennonite town; two sisters who want out/better; parents who are present but elsewhere sometimes - toews is just such a great storyteller. her characters are so real, and funny, quirky, and flawed. her story is full of life and full of heartbreak. the messy and the difficult can be tricky terrains for writers to pull off well in their writing, but toews really does it wonderfully. i feel as though this may be her best novel. for 2014, it's definitely my most favourite read, so far. i am feeingl strongly it will sustain for me for a long time to come. YAY!i haven't collected all of my thoughts yet, but wanted to post something rather than leaving this space, a fabulous and revealing review/interview from mark medley in the national post: here, the poem from which the title of toews' novel was taken, and which features in the book:To A Friend, With An Unfinished PoemThus far my scanty brain hath built the rhyme Elaborate and swelling; ­ yet the heart Not owns it. From thy spirit-breathing powers I ask not now, my friend! the aiding verse Tedious to thee, and from thy anxious thought Of dissonant mood. In fancy (well I know) From business wand'ring far and local cares, Thou creepest round a dear-loved sister's bed With noiseless step, and watchest the faint look, Soothing each pang with fond solicitude, And tenderest tones medicinal of love. I, too, a sister had, an only sister -- She loved me dearly, and I doted on her; To her I pour'd forth all my puny sorrows; (As a sick patient in a nurse's arms,) And of the heart those hidden maladies ­ That e'en from friendship's eye will shrink ashamed. O! I have waked at midnight, and have wept Because she was not! ­ Cheerily, dear Charles! Thou thy best friend shalt cherish many a year; Such warm presages feel I of high hope! For not uninterested the dear maid I've view'd ­ her soul affectionate yet wise, Her polish'd wit as mild as lambent glories That play around a sainted infant's head. He knows (the Spirit that in secret sees, Of whose omniscient and all-spreading love Aught to implore were impotence of mind!) That my mute thoughts are sad before his throne, ­ Prepared, when He his healing ray vouchsafes, Thanksgiving to pour forth with lifted heart, And praise him gracious with a brother's joy! Dec. 1794Samuel Taylor Colerdige**********as the idea of assisted suicide is a topic that i am interested in, this new article caught my attention, and ties in well with toews' novel. i hope this plea makes it to our supreme court.**********16 nov 14: edited to add: this wonderful interview in the LARB:"Martin Amis once said, “Failure is the story.” That’s always stuck with me. I could have written a book that atoned for my own shortcomings, where I have my character do the right thing. But I thought that would be too … pedantic. And easy. Also it wouldn’t be true to my life. The idea of the uncertainty, the unknowingness, I feel that is a place that the novelist, the poet, and the philosopher can inhabit."

  • Christina
    2019-03-07 03:57

    Raised in a Mennonite household haunted by remembers of religious persecution in Russia, Elfrieda and Yolandi are expected to conform to particular expectations for their life and live in a community where people gossip and whisper about the nonconformists. Elfrieda, known as Elf to her family, is a progeny at the piano offering her an opportunity to escape from the insular community and her sister, known as Yoli, an example of someone who is able to leave and live a glamorous, wealthy, and happy life.Twenty years or so later, Yoli's life has dissolved into a mess -- two teenage children who are distant and moody, a divorce, existence near the poverty line -- and the happiness in Elf's life is evident only at the surface because, like their father, Elf wishes to end her life. Still struggling to cope with her father's suicide, Yoli is trying to do everything in her power to keep her sister hospitalized and alive but must eventually decide which course of action is most appropriate for her sister.Toews' book was largely favored to win the 2014 Giller Prize; The Globe and Mail's infographic on the 2014 shortlist stated that nineteen members of their thirty member panel selected Toews' novel as the winner. I can clearly see why it was so heavily favored given the topic as the moral and ethical dilemma of suicide, particularly assisted suicide, can be explored in a myriad of complex, logical, and emotional ways.Yet I found Toews' exploration failed to incite much of an emotional reaction on my part. She sets the characters up to have this complex religious upbringing only to largely drop their history as the story progresses. The lack of insight into the characters and their largely inauthentic responses was not something I expected after learning the book is semi-autobiographical.Primarily, I think I struggled with the book because the reader's understanding of Elf is filtered through her sister making it difficult to truly view Elf or, for that matter, Yoli as separate characters as they each come to terms with Elf's desire to commit suicide. There seems to be no reason for Elf's suicidal tendencies because Yoli does not believe anything can explain her sister's severe depression. In other words, her "green eyed monster" attitude towards her sister's life seems to color not only her interactions with her sister but her willingness to understand Elf's mental health.There also isn't much of a narrative structure to this book as it jumps from past to present within chapters. The past is meant to explain the present; the present continues on in a series of mundane activities with Elf's suicides interrupting Yoli's tortuous hatred for her own life. I rarely find novels written in steam of consciousness work for me and this novel was no exception.

  • Dean
    2019-03-23 05:52

    Superb, fantastic and a Story about two sisters with their struggle against Depression.I give 5 stars.

  • Vonia
    2019-02-23 03:49

    I was pleasantly surprised by how much I fell in love with this book. This is the story of two sisters, Elfrieda & Yolandi. They both live in Canada. Elfrieda is a world-renowned concert pianist, has a loving husband, Nicholas, and lives in a beautiful and luxurious estate, she has fans all over the world, most of which fall in love with her on sight. They're willing to go to Great Lengths and distances to listen to her and watch her perform. Unfortunately, she was also suicidal, constantly in and out of psychiatric Wards for her suicide attempt. Her younger sister Yolandi- in stark contrast- is divorced with two children, Nora and William, desperately searching for true love still, but wants nothing more than to save her sister. Their mother, seemingly fragile but very strong inside, is that a loss. They are a Mennonite family, with a history of suicide in the family. Their father committed suicide by walking in front of a train. Their cousin Leina also committed suicide. Aunt Tina dies after an unexpected heart ailment, made all the worse after her appearance as a colorful and funny supportive friend to the sisters. Needless to say, there is much sadness in this novel. All three more respectable, then, that Toews manages to make readers laugh out loud and love the ending anyhow. The synopsis is quite deceiving because this novel is really about so many different things. Some of the main ones include sisters, family, motherhood, marriage, divorce, friendships, Mennonites, flaws in the medical system, how music deeply affects lives, suicide, suicide prevention, the helplessness and hopelessness that can be there, euthanasia. * "What fresh hell is this?" - quoted by Yolandi, originally by Dorothy Parker The Good * First and foremost, Miriam Toews has a very poetic writing voice. There are many quotes I loved, on so many different topics. I feel like I could quote pages. * On the note of poetry, clearly it is something Toews has an appreciation for, as poets are often references, verse excerpts appropriately inserted. Even the title is from a Coleridge poem: "To her I pour'd forth all my puny sorrows" (sick patient to nurse). * Interesting flashbacks and insights into the uber conservative Mennonite community. Subcultures like that always fascinate me. * I liked that it was told from multiple points of view. It was very effective for this novel. It is all told in first person by our narrator Yolandi, but she lends herself to an omniscient view at times, discussing things she could not have possibly known first hand, from her mother, or Elfrieda's, or her husband's perspective. * The effect music can have on all of our lives was addressed excellently in this novel. Pages 19 and 62 have two of my favorite examples. * Props to Toews for addressing the faulty mental health system. In the emergency room following one of her many suicide attempts, one of the renown doctors says, "We are very much amazed at what little intelligence there is to be found in [her]." Right. Because one should equate intelligence with the will to live. *The sympathetic and understanding view of suicide should be appreciated and noted. Toews makes it a point to show that suicide is not selfish. Her characters know this. For example, when Elfreida tries apologizing, her mother tells her that suicide is not something one should apologize for. To quote Goethe, "Suicide is an event of human nature which, whatever may be said and done with respect to it, demands the sympathy of every man, and in every epoch must be discussed anew." * It would have been so easy for Toews to make this a fairytale ending to please the masses. I love that she chose not to. I also liked that there were still a good sixty pages left in the story after Elfreida succeeds in her suicide. Why? Because life does go on. Like the best unfortunate endings, it was not entirely helpless. In fact, I might even call it beautiful. In her will, Elfrieda leaves Yolandi, in addition to her life insurance, a monthly stipend for two years so that she is free to write in a room of her own (à la Virgina, of course). After all these deaths, Yolandi moves in with her mother in a new place, bought with her sister's life insurance inheritance. * I need to say it again. It is good writing, period. I can feel the emotions of the characters, I can really see the love between them. This is not as easy to create as one might believe. The Bad * I will admit that I was slightly bothered by the lack of quotations in dialogue at times, but it did make the story more immersive and flow together nicely, as long as I did not let myself get distracted. That is honestly the main problem I had with this title and it is not even that significant. The Amazing * I have long been a strong supporter of Euthanasia. Nowhere is this mentioned in this synopsis so this was an unexpectedly pleasant surprise for me. This is the first time I have read about Switzerland being a country that not only supports it but actually supports it for those with mental health problems. This is especially exciting for me because I have always mentioned how that aspect is almost always missing from assisted suicide and euthanasia discussions. To me, lifelong mental health problems are definitely as bad if not worse than terminal illnesses. Those, of course, are focused on the physical aspect and that they will be dying anyway, but mental anguish and pain can often be far more torturous. Switzerland apparently calls this "weariness of life". According to Swiss law, those performing euthanasia do not even need to be residents. Obviously, this is the perfect solution for individuals in other countries ready to properly say goodbye.This brings us to what I see as the central struggle in this novel. "She wanted to die and I wanted her to live and we were enemies who loved each other," Yolandi states. When her sister puts all her trust in her to save her, to beg her to take her to Zurich to die, she is torn. Yolandi knows how much her sister wants to die. She knows or is willing to admit more than anyone how likely it is that she will succeed sooner rather than later. Sure, she could wait to see if treatment could change things, medical advances, a miracle. But it is a fight for time and a losing race. It is more likely that Elfrieda will win and if she takes her to Zurich at least she will have proper goodbyes and will have granted the sister she loves more than life her last wish. Yolandi must ask, "Could I live with myself if I did it? Could I live with myself if I did not?Of course, Toews has to reference the famous (or infamous) "Final Exit", the suicide handbook published in 1991. There are several pages and a few different times when Toews goes into details about how euthanasia could be performed. This was of great interest to me. Around page 193, Yolandi discovers in her research that Pentobarbital is Nembutal, brand names Sedal-Vet, Sedalphorte, and Barbithal. They are used for animals, most easily purchased in pet stores in Mexico, but one must go deep into the country, since the border towns are aware of this. Recommendations are to take an over the counter anti nausea pill beforehand. It might be difficult to get it back across the border, so a better alternative is to take the person wishing to die into Mexico. One dose of Nembutal is around thirty dollars; one needs two 100 ml bottles in order to ensure the necessary speed and death with certainty.Euthanasia and The Right To Die are vital topics for discussion in our society today. More authors need to begin addressing them like Miriam Toews has so well in this remarkable book.

  • Clif Hostetler
    2019-02-27 02:44

    SUICIDE! There I said it. That forbidden action cloaks this novel with an ominous foreboding that lets the reader know that this book is probably not going to have a happy conclusion. It is the story of the relationship of two sisters, one a self-described "fuck-up" and the other with a well ordered and accomplished life. If life decisions were rational, the sister with the messed up life is the one who has reason to commit suicide. But instead she is the one who spends all her energy trying to keep her sister from committing suicide.As if the above description isn't grim enough, it so happens that the novel contains significant autobiographic elements from the author's own life. (See the last two paragraphs of this review for a discussion of the autobiographic nature of the books written by Miriam Toews.) The book is the story of two sisters, Elf (Elfrieda) and Yoli (Yolandi), who hail from the small town of East Village, Manitoba. Toews, as usual, shows her writing skills in dealing with this difficult subject. She gives some not so gentle criticism of the mental health care system. She describes the conservative Mennonite community as less than helpful and as a place best to leave.The final part of the book explores the subject of life's losses and new beginnings. The following is an example of an upbeat view of carrying on with life after a loss.My mother is not a hipster or a style maven. She's a short, fat seventy-six-year-old Mennonite prairie woman who has lived most of her life in one of the country's most conservative small towns, who has been tossed repeatedly through life's wringer, and who has rather suddenly moved to the trendy heart of the nation's largest city to begin, as they say, a new chapter in her life. ... She is the absolute embodiment of resilience and good sportsmanship.In the last chapter Yoli writes a letter to her sister Elf who is no longer living. She describes something her mother told her as follows:She told me that the brain is built to forget things as we continue to live, that memories are meant to fade and disintegrate, that skin, so protective in the beginning because it has to be to protect our organs, sags eventually ... and sharp edges become blunt, that the pain of letting go of grief is just as painful or even more painful than the grief itself.The letter continues with some unbelievably surreal descriptions of family activities which I assume are examples of the author's creativity. I can understand why Miriam Toews writes fictional accounts of real life experiences. They allow her to use her creative writing skills to their fullest. They allow her stories to have more emotional impact than a memoir. I can see how this book could perhaps be cathartic for some readers, but it may be too much for others.The following is a link to a good review and references an interview that the writer had with the author: