A Review of Miriam Toew’s All My Puny Sorrows (by Jill)


all my puny sorrows cover.png

This one was Indiespensible #50 from Powell’s back in November of 2014. I read it over the summer, mostly while I was travelling to and from Georgia to visit my aunt with my parents. It was probably one of my favorite surprises of the Indiespensible books I’ve read—I wasn’t excited to read it but I ended up really enjoying it, despite the heavy subject matter.

The novel is narrated by Yolandi, a writer of “rodeo novels,” and a lapsed Mennonite, who travels home to Winnipeg from Toronto to be with her sister Elfrieda who has tried to kill herself. Again. Elfreida is a pianist, and a very famous and accomplished one. Her reasons for continuing to attempt suicide are never quite defined other than that she wants to not be alive anymore. This novel is not especially plot-driven; it’s more about Yoli figuring out her somewhat messed up life (she is getting divorced, drinks too much, has a fairly successful career writing books that mean very little to her, has two teenaged children who seem like good kids, but she definitely isn’t happy) and coming to terms with finally losing the person who means the most to her.

One regret I have about this book is that I didn’t get a chance to research Mennonites as well as I would have normally while I was reading since I read so much of it on planes, or in bed, where I have a fairly strict no devices before going to sleep policy. (For myself only–I think my husband may be on Facebook and Reddit while he’s sleeping.) I know that Mennonites are Christians, and that they’re sort of like the Amish but not really. I just did some Wikipedia reading really fast and the faith is, of course, more complicated than my initial impression. There are several different orders of Mennonites, some of which are very “Amish-like,” and some of which are more moderate. Yoli and Elf’s family is moderate, but it seems like they might be more liberal than the rest of their community. By the time the action of the novel takes place, Yoli, Elf, and the rest of their family are pretty much lapsed Mennonites, but are still shaped by their sort-of former religion.

I really enjoyed this book; Toews’ prose is beautiful, and I wish I had some examples to share, but the one passage I flagged is so long I’m not going to include it. Yoli is a well-drawn and reliable narrator, and Elfrieda is horribly flawed. I wish we could have seen in her head a little, to get behind her reasoning behind all the suicide attempts. All of the supporting characters were lovely, as well. I whole-heartedly recommend this book and wish I had blogged about it sooner so my review could be more detailed, but 2016 has not been my year for putting out detailed book reviews, and for that I apologize. Hopefully 2017 will be better!


This entry was posted in Fiction - literary, Miriam Toews, Reviews by Jill, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to A Review of Miriam Toew’s All My Puny Sorrows (by Jill)

  1. Gubbinal says:

    Thank you for this review. I must read this book and I am glad that you’ve persuaded me. I really appreciate your reviewing style: you give us enough to crave the experience but not so much that major surprises or plot turns are ruined.

    • badkitty1016 says:

      Thank you for reading and commenting! I really liked this book too and am looking forward to reading more of Miriam Toew’s books!

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