on April 17, 2011
When I say trippy, I say that Toews transports you to a different world. Both on the farm and in the city, you hear, smell and see the sights, sounds and odors of whole different world. Reading this book on an overly cold spring day allowed me to escape into a world that is far from a beach resort in Cancoun. The austerity that pushes down on Irma feels relentless and if wasn't for her unyielding pluck the book could become oppressive or even claustrophobic. And just when you are wondering which side will win, a three letter sentence at the close of a chapter- gives every word a brand new meaning and opens a whole new story. This book takes you for a ride- an adventure that is both believable and fantastic all at once. Personally, I fed off Irma's strength and felt that if she can do what she is doing, then I might as well keep on waking up every day and believing something phenomenal might come my way too. Toews' voice is marvelous. Her books are a pleasure and joy to read. And that gentleness, that lightness allows you to go with her wherever she wishes to take you- and the darker the more textured and the more disturbed the greater the challenge and impact. A wonderful book- worth every second of reading.
on May 31, 2011
I just loved this book. The plot was unexpected and had many twists and turns and the main characters went through so many changes and so much development, I found myself thinking about them long after I had finished the book. It's a page turner, and a poem. Just such a good read.
Reason for Reading: I adored "The Flying Troutmans" and wanted to try another book by the author.
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. I found the story interesting though perhaps a bit "high-brow" at times, taking itself too seriously. But I never once stopped enjoying the story though it took a long time to go anywhere. I preferred the second half of the book over the first. In the second half, Irma gets away from her father and moves to Mexico City where she learns a whole new way of live. And yet, through it all, she still yearns for the corn fields back home.
Irma herself is a character with many crosses to bear. She has the two men in her life, her father and husband, who have treated her unwell and yet she in turn has great guilt over something she has done to each of them in turn. Irma actually carries a lot of guilt for things she blames herself for causing and people she has hurt, starting with own soul. Irma learns who she is on this journey. Learns if it is possible to forgive herself and if it is possible for her to forgive the others as well. Certainly, a well-written, good read if not necessarily a gripping read. I'm still interested in reading the author's other books as I enjoy her writing style.
Had I not read a review promising that "Irma Voth" picks up after 140 pages, I may well have given up long before that. Indeed, the narrative moves idly at first: the eponymous protagonist, nineteen years old and abandoned by her husband, lands a job translating and cooking for a film crew that has descended upon her Mennonite community in rural Mexico. As Irma struggles to find her place in the world, the reader struggles through the thoughtful but minimalist prose that narrates Irma's story.
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.'
on June 23, 2011
I have read most of Miriam Toews' books. I found this one very slow in piquing my interest. I read to page 150 or so, before I could get interested in the story. The tale is rather tragic, but the action is much too slow to develop. I don't think that I would recommend this book to my friends.