Irma Voth Hardcover – Apr 5 2011
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“Toews . . . is clearly an artistic powerhouse. . . . In this compelling and beautiful novel, Toews’s quirky and authentic voice shows increasing range and maturity. She is well on her way to fulfilling her promise as an important and serious writer.”
“There is something quite mesmerizing about Toews’s prose. It’s to do with the rhythm of her language, with the seeming effortlessness of it and, when combined with her quick, offhand wit, it can enliven even the darkest of moments.”
— Toronto Star
“Toews’s ability to generate comedy and heartache at the same time just soars.”
“Irma Voth is wryly funny and perceptive.”
— National Post
“It is beautiful, strange, and fascinating, and readers wise enough to trust in the author’s sure hand will be rewarded with a novel that takes them someplace altogether unexpected.”
— Kerry Clare, Quill & Quire
“A beautiful, heartbreaking novel. . . . Calls to mind Ann-Marie MacDonald’s 1996 epic, Fall On Your Knees.”
— Winnipeg Free Press
“A stunning culture clash between the Mennonite and art communities. . . . The internal conflict over when to reveal hard information, in life or in art, is one of Toews’s key themes. A sequence about how it feels to tell the truth is a knockout.”
— NOW (Toronto) NNNN
From the Back Cover
That rare coming-of-age story able to blend the dark with the uplifting, Irma Voth follows a young Mennonite woman, vulnerable yet wise beyond her years, who carries a terrible family secret with her on a remarkable journey to survival and redemption.
Nineteen-year-old Irma lives in a rural Mennonite community in Mexico. She has already been cast out of her family for marrying a young Mexican ne’er-do-well she barely knows, although she remains close to her rebellious younger sister and yearns for the lost intimacy with her mother. With a husband who proves elusive and often absent, a punishing father, and a faith in God damaged beyond repair, Irma appears trapped in an untenable and desperate situation. When a celebrated Mexican filmmaker and his crew arrive from Mexico City to make a movie about the insular community in which she was raised, Irma is immediately drawn to the outsiders and is soon hired as a translator on the set. But her father, intractable and domineering, is determined to destroy the film and get rid of the interlopers. His action sets Irma on an irrevocable path toward something that feels like freedom.
A novel of great humanity, written with dry wit, edgy humor, and emotional poignancy, Irma Voth is the powerful story of a young woman’s quest to discover all that she may become in the unexpectedly rich and confounding world that lies beyond the stifling, observant community she knows.--This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition. See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
Irma Voth is about a family who are Mennonites but ultimately that is not a big issue in the story; they could really be any very rural, backwoods type of people as the Voths are pretty much loners and there is not a lot of Mennonite community activities or lifestyle portrayed in the book.
The Voths are originally from Canada but one day they picked up and moved to a Mennonite Community in Mexico. They live remotely, on land where the father owns three houses. We meet Irma as her husband is leaving her. Irma has been shunned by her father because she eloped and married a Mexican. They live in one of his houses and work his land for free but he does not speak with them. Irma's husband comes back every now and then as he is involved in the drug trade and he keeps his "goods" in the barn. A famous Mexican director comes to the area and rents the third house on the property for his crew as he makes a movie about Mennonites. The father hates everything these people stand for but his youngest daughter becomes curious and sneaks away to watch them. Irma is offered a job as translator since she speaks German, Mexican and English, which she excepts, since she has no income and no husband now. The plan is to eventually leave the stranglehold of her father.
There is no denying that Toews is a beautiful writer who has a lyric way with words and can add a touch of wit to scenes where it is least expected. The story is a slow moving one, not one to be rushed, even though I did read it within the time frame of a day. I find it hard to review this book because I'm not ecstatic about the story but neither did I dislike it. I never really connected with the characters.Read more ›
Finally, Irma's involvement in the film leads her to flee her tyrannical father's compound with her sister, Aggie. When the girls tell their mother their plan, she hands them her newborn to take along. Here, the novel gains momentum and becomes infinitely more interesting but also implausible. Irma's father may not value girls though it's hard to imagine that her mother would consider a newborn safer in the company of two teenagers running away to Mexico City than in her own home. The world the girls discover on their journey is foreign and intimidating but also unrealistically accommodating; things fall into place a little too easily.
Despite weaknesses in her plot, Miriam Toews ultimately creates an interesting character study of a young woman dealing with abandonment and tremendous guilt brought on by a terrible family secret, the reason the family left its native Canada. Toews not only asks, how do we forgive ourselves? but also, can words transcend their literal meanings? Irma may never answer these questions but she does come to value her own worth and to appreciate her own expression. As she writes in her notebook, "I love the sound my new pen makes on the paper and the thickness of the pages. It terrifies me.'