June 12, 2012

Irma Voth by Miriam Toews

I really enjoyed this latest book by Miriam Toews. I did myself the favour of buying it (in paperback) because it's a very pretty book, and I'm not sorry I have it. Miriam (I guess I call her by her first name because Marj did) is entertaining as always. Once again she has an off-the-wall heroine, this time a young Mennonite woman whose family moved from Manitoba to Mexico when she was about 12. As a result, she speaks Low German, English and Spanish, and gets herself a job as a translator on a movie that is being shot near her rural home.

The complicating factor is her father, an abusive, violent, hardline conservative who tries to control her life and with whom she shares a bitter secret. Her younger sister Aggie is the other very complex and very funny character. As with The Flying Troutmans, this is a hardscrabble, rough and raw group of characters that figures out a way to make things work.

What will keep you reading is Toews's metaphors, wry humor and unexpected take on almost everything. In one scene Aggie has found a stash of Irma's baby clothes and is holding the tiny garments up to her one by one while Irma is milking cows. One expects sentiment, but instead Aggie says, "Wow, this is ugly," of one little item, and Irma responds, "You wore it too."

The other most intriguing thing is learning to know Irma. Like the heroine of A Complicated Kindness, Irma is wise beyond her years, but unlike Nomi, Irma has been really poorly educated and because of her terrible upbringing, lacks all confidence. Watching her grab her life and run with it is just plain fascinating.

I think Miriam Toews has done it again. Irma Voth may not win the Giller but it is beautifully crafted and I'll be happy to lend it to whoever would like to read it.


  1. I'm surprised you enjoyed this one as much as you did. I really struggled with it -- topic for future discussion. Hope you're enjoying your birthday today.

  2. Now that you mention it, I remember you saying...It is an odd ducky for sure, but Irma got under my skin. I'd love to hear her talk about this - why she chose this setting and how she researched it.