Book Report: All My Puny Sorrows

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I’m only halfway through the Obama book, but I took a break to read this month’s neighborhood book club selection, so I’d be sure not to totally fail like last month. I’m glad I did, because All My Puny Sorrows, by Miriam Toews (2014) was a beautiful jewel of a book.

My poet friend, Kelly, recommended it so strongly that I just had to get it. Then, when we learned more about it, the neighborhood women also wanted to read along.

I hope they like it as much as I did. A book about a Canadian woman (Elfrieda) who is driven to commit suicide doesn’t sound like fun, you end up enjoying the story very much. The interplay among the family members is so poignant and nuanced, that sometimes I had to re-read the dialog.

I enjoyed getting to know the protagonists, a family burdened by an oppressive Mennonite upbringing. The main character is the younger sister of the suicidal piano genius (Yolandi). She has her own issues, which are fascinating to watch unfold as the book progresses. She was fascinated by her sister, but readers will be fascinated by her.

Then there’s her mother and aunt, completely charming women on their own journeys of discovery. Their banter and insight will live with me a long time. That and all the poetry Toews shares just makes you want to savor this book. You’ll hardly notice that the book sort of lacks a plot.

Who cares. It’s both funny and poignant. I’ll be reading this again. I wish I were articulate enough to really convey the beauty of the language and the depth of the characters in All My Puny Sorrows, which apparently is semi-autobiographical. I’ll have to read Women Talking or another of her books, too.

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