Miriam Toews’ new novel brings us back to the beloved voice of her award-winning, #1 bestseller A Complicated Kindness, and to a Mennonite community in the Mexican desert. Original and brilliant, she is a master of storytelling at the height of her powers, who manages with trademark wry wit and a fierce tenderness to be at once heartbreaking and laugh-out-loud funny.
Irma Voth entangles love, longing and dark family secrets. The stifling, reclusive Mennonite life of nineteen-year-old Irma Voth – newly married and newly deserted and as unforgettable a character as Nomi Nickel in A Complicated Kindness – is irrevocably changed when a film crew moves in to make a movie about the community. She embraces the absurdity, creative passion and warmth of their world but her intractable and domineering father is determined to keep her from it at all costs. The confrontation between them sets her on an irrevocable path towards something that feels like freedom as she and her young sister, Aggie, wise beyond her teenage years, flee to the city, upheld only by their love for each other and their smart wit, even as they begin to understand the tragedy that has their family in its grip.
Irma Voth delves into the complicated factors that set us on the road to self-discovery and how we can sometimes find the strength to endure the really hard things that happen. And as Gustavo, a taxi driver, says, you go on, you live and you laugh and you are compassionate toward others. It also asks that most difficult of questions: How do we forgive? And most importantly, how do we forgive ourselves?
There are just some authors that blow you away every freaking time. I mean EVERY time. They change things up from novel to novel and when you open their latest offering you never quite know what to expect, except that it’s going to be brilliant. For me, Miriam Toews falls into this group. I have been left speechless by everything she’s written, and Irma Voth was no different.
I don’t even feel qualified to talk about her writing, really. I feel that anything I say won’t capture how fluid and simple and complicated and poetic it is. She can evoke so much emotion with one sentence that it’s ridiculous. Seriously.
While I loved the whole book, I was riveted once Irma and Aggie flee to the city. There’s one scene, just as they’re leaving, that left me gasping for air it was so beautiful and painful and honest. Toews weaves a story not just about finding yourself, but also about helping others find themselves.
At first Irma might strike readers as a fairly simple character, but as the book goes on and you spend more time with Irma, you find out that there’s more than meets the eye. In fact, most of the characters, one way or another, blossom throughout the book and become multi-dimensional. It’s kinda like it works when you meet people in real like: the longer you know them, the more you see the different layers that make them up.
Irma Voth, both the book and the character, are going to stick with me for a while I think. As do most of Toews characters.