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.Read more...
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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.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2011-05-09
- Reviewer: Staff
Toews's (A Complicated Kindness) story unfolds in a remote Mennonite outpost in Mexico, where the strictly observant cross paths with the narcos, creating an uncomfortable cultural mix of Spanish, English, and Low German. Nineteen-year-old Irma tells of her own alienation from the Mennonites after marrying a young Mexican man. Though she still lives near her family, her patriarchal father has ordered her shunned (her spirited little sister, however, continues to visit, half-angry, half-longing for brief contact). After a quick wedding, Irma's husband is rarely home, and Irma is lonely until an eccentric crew of filmmakers arrives to make a movie set among the Mennonites. Irma works as a translator and finds much in common with these artists and lost souls. But her father holds an overblown hatred of the filmmakers, believing them evil. When his menacing opposition begins to threaten the film—and her sister's safety—Irma, ennobled by her experience on the production, makes a radical choice that will greatly affect her family. With her fifth novel, Toews, who was born into a Mennonite community in Canada, combines an intimate coming-of-age tale with picaresque and extremely effective prose. (Sept.)
Lights, camera, freedom
Canadian novelist Miriam Toews returns to the subject of Mennonite teenage girls in Irma Voth. Living in a Mennonite enclave in northern Mexico, 19-year-old Irma has been shunned for marrying a local man who abandons her soon after the marriage. Despite her father’s bullying and threats, Irma remains in touch with her mother and younger sister, Aggie. When a notable Mexican filmmaker comes to town to make a movie about the insular religious community, Irma is hired as a translator. To her Mennonite neighbors, Irma’s collaboration proves almost as outrageous as her marriage, and she finds herself at odds with many in the community. It is not long before Irma starts thinking about leaving Mexico altogether and bringing her sister with her.
The novel comes alive in the beautifully handled relationship between the overburdened Irma and the carefree Aggie, who unlike Irma has been able to achieve an emotional distance from her parents. While she and Aggie make their move, Irma struggles to solve the twin mysteries of the family’s initial move to Mexico from Canada and the whereabouts of her older sister, Katie.
Irma Voth may be the most emotionally complex of Toews’ novels. Irma is determined to create a different life for her sisters, but is frustrated by her own feelings of guilt and regret, having inherited her father’s view that the girls were responsible for his abusive behavior. Irma recounts her life with a direct yet artful stream-of-consciousness, and the reader never feels far from her thoughts, whether they are passing observations or her deepest emotions.
Toews based this novel on her own experience working in Mexico with director Carlos Reygadas on the film Silent Light. There she observed firsthand the interaction between the filmmakers and the Mennonite community, descendents from the small group who had first emigrated from Canada in the 1920s in search of religious freedom. Though the combination is almost surreal, this clash of cultures proves truth can often be stranger than fiction.