A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews

A Complicated Kindness by Miriam ToewsNaomi Nickel, the narrator of this sharp-witted, but tragic story, lives in a small Mennonite village in Manitoba. Nomi, as she is known to her father, is struggling to come to terms with the loss of her older sister and her mother -both of whom have left the restrictive life of her small community. Nomi’s Uncle Hans, the leader of their church, continues to introduce more oppressive rules and strictures -to the extent of shunning his own sister. Meanwhile, over at the quarry, the town’s teenagers drink, smoke, fornicate and take drugs -all of which is ignored providing they show up for church the next morning. Nomi brings a wry and insightful voice to the paradox of growing up Mennonite in the 1970s.

What the Armchair Critics Thought:
We had mixed reactions to this novel. We liked Nomi’s humour and sharp insights; however we were saddened by the portrayal of a family destroyed by religious beliefs. What a waste. Nomi’s father was a lonely yet stoic figure who makes a great sacrifice at the novel’s end to save his daughter from further deterioration. We had a good discussion of what the complicated kindness was, and found that Toews had used examples throughout the book of the small-town friendliness coupled with religious intolerance that must have marked her childhood. Recommended.

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