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All My Puny Sorrows Hardcover – November 18, 2014
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A Boston Globe 'Best Fiction of 2014' Pick
A New York Times Editors' Choice pick for the week of November 26, 2014.
Included in the New Republic's Best Fiction of 2014
"I read 'All My Puny Sorrows' very recently and fell in love with Miriam Toews’ work. That novel is totally unafraid of the dark wilderness of the mind and heartseeing as it’s a novel largely preoccupied with suicideand it also somehow manages to be really funny. It felt incredibly alive to me."
Laura van den Berg, Salon Magazine
"Irresistible its intelligence, its honesty and, above all, its compassion provide a kind of existential balma comfort not unlike the sort you might find by opening a bottle of wine and having a long conversation with (yes, really) a true friend.” Curtis Sittenfeld, The New York Times
"In the crucible of [Miriam Toews'] genius, tears and laughter are ground into some magical elixir that seems like the essence of life." Ron Charles, The Washington Post
[A] wrenchingly honest, darkly funny novel. (Grade: A)" Entertainment Weekly
"Toews is a writer of considerable subtlety and grace, with a gift for bringing flashes of lightness, even humor, to the darkest of tales." --The Millions
"[A] masterful, original investigation into love, loss and survival." Kirkus (Starred)
"Bold, brash and big-hearted.... Toews writes from the point of view of Yoli, whose interior monologue reads like a cross between David Foster Wallace and Robin Williams if both were, in fact, a 40-something Mennonite woman with authority issues. She’s a smart aleck with heart, a philosopher with a comic’s timing." The Dallas Morning News
"[A] triumph in its depiction of the love the sisters share."Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
"Toews writes with a sharp and piercing eye, offering characters and descriptions which are so odd and yet so spot-on that the reader has to laugh, albeit reluctantly." Booklist
"A touching tribute and a captivating novel." BUST
"Touching and unexpectedly humorous." Marie Claire
Toews is an extraordinarily gifted writer, with unsentimental compassion for her people and an honest understanding of their past, the tectonic shifts of their present and variables of their future.” The Globe and Mail
"[Miriam Toews] has a wry, funny voice that is the readers’ steady companion. She also has an eye for the absurd and a perfect tragicomedic timing in delivery." Christian Century
"It requires a talented author to take a serious subject and write such an engaging, enjoyable work.Library Journal (starred)
"[A] sad, wise, often funny and very good novel." Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
"'All My Puny Sorrows' is a bittersweet story about those who survive and those who can’t fight the current." Minneapolis StarTribune
"Funny and irresistibly warm" BuzzFeed
"Toews infuses [All My Puny Sorrows] with humor and sympathy."
John Williams, NY1, The Book Reader
"A harrowing and often very funny novel ... Every page yields a surprise, a laugh, or a line that will make your breath catch in your throat." Dan Kois, Slate
"Thanks to the prodigious talent of author Miriam Toews, 'All My Puny Sorrows' is an off-kilter, frequently funny and begrudgingly life-affirming romp through, well, death." The Los Angeles Times
"As jagged and ripped open as a freshly torn heart." The Boston Globe
"Fitful and seething" The Rumpus
"Both funny and heartbreaking, this semi-autobiographical novel was the bravest book I read this year." Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
"Soul-crushingly beautiful." The Oregonian
'All My Puny Sorrows,' by Miriam Toews, is the book that etched itself most deeply inside me this year, and I feel certain will become a lifelong companion. Underneath the stunning writing and outrageous humor are insights wise and profound that test the boundaries of human rights and stretch the borders of love." Naomi Klein, San Francisco Chronicle
"A touching examination of loss, of family, of life itself. an exquisite, lasting elegy." The Seattle Times
"Toews is truly distinct, hilarious even when she’s dealing with the most heartbreaking and bleak of subjects." The New Republic
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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.
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.
Whether a reader whose life and family history isn't marked by depression and suicide can relate to this story, I wouldn't know. But for someone who has lived it, I can tell you in all sincerity, Miriam Toews gets it. She probably wishes she didn't, as do I, but that's the way it is.
Only someone who gets it could tell a story about such sadness with such humor. Miriam Toews' wit is enviable, and incredibly entertaining.
What I loved about All My Puny Sorrows was that it wasn't a how-to book for surviving. It didn't preach. It didn't prescribe a remedy. But, it also didn't drag you down. I cried, yes, but I was so pleased to find an understanding voice in a world so filled with judgment, that I came away lighter, happier than when I'd started reading.
It simply bore witness to love, sadness, and the struggle to keep going, with humor and understanding.
Having said that, I couldn't stop reading the book because of the subject matter, much of which is about the legal issues involved when a person asks another to help end that person's life as the older sister, Elf, does. One learns about the 'weariness of life' laws in Switzerland and the drugs one can buy in Mexico.
And it's a novel about the large family, originally from Europe and Menonites who moved to Canada. And how many of them ended their lives.
I loved the characters--all of them. Yoli is very dysfunctional, charmingly so. She's had two husbands. And has a child from each. The children are charming and love their mother and act just the way real teens do.