Ina rare coming-of-age novel that blends dark truths with upliftingtransformations, acclaimed author Miriam Toewsdelivers the story of a young Mennonite woman, vulnerable yet wise beyond heryears, who carries the burden of a terrible family secret with her during aremarkable journey of survival and redemption.Read more...
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Ina rare coming-of-age novel that blends dark truths with upliftingtransformations, acclaimed author Miriam Toewsdelivers the story of a young Mennonite woman, vulnerable yet wise beyond heryears, who carries the burden of a terrible family secret with her during aremarkable journey of survival and redemption. Irma Voth, from the award-winning author of Swing Low and A Complicated Kindness, is a poignant and elegant exploration of one woman's difficult odyssey todiscover her own potential--a path that leads her away from her close-knitcommunity and into the wide and unknown world beyond.
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.