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All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews
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All My Puny Sorrows

by Miriam Toews

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7055019,312 (4.08)171
  1. 00
    Come, Thou Tortoise by Jessica Grant (ebeaz)
    ebeaz: Similar exploration of the grieving process among family members who have lost someone close to them. Both books contain a lot of humour, but are able to dole out the heartache when they need to. Plus, there are sections narrated by a tortoise.
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Showing 1-5 of 50 (next | show all)
Elfrieda (Elf) is a world-renowned pianist, beautiful, wealthy, in a happy marriage – and she wants to die. Her younger sister Yolandi (Yoli) who tells this story is broke, divorced and struggling as a single mother, and she desperately wants to save her sister from committing suicide, while she tries to keep her own life together.

This book, shortlisted for Canada’s prestigious Giller Prize in 2014, looks at a serious subject in a compassionate & profound way – and along the way provides some humour from Yoli.

An outstanding effort. One of those books that sneaks up on you.

5 stars ( )
  ParadisePorch | Mar 21, 2018 |
I would say that this book undid me, but I think it put me together for the first time. It hit very, very close to home. It made me feel vulnerable, but it didn't make me sad. I think reading this book built something up in me that I didn't know needed to be assembled. I'm absolutely floored by Toews brilliance and incredibly grateful for this beautiful book. ( )
  saresmoore | Mar 20, 2018 |
A very sad but not depressing book about how a sister and her mother live with and through the deaths of family members. An honest look -- without apology, explanation, or excuse -- at suicide. There are so many good truisms in the book, a healthy dose of literary quotations and poetry, and of course the raw dialogue style of Miriam Toews that is unconventional but so logical, nevertheless. Our lives might be normal or screwed up or utterly painful: how do you do it? ( )
  LDVoorberg | Dec 3, 2017 |
A strong novel about a tough subject to write about, the desire to end one’s life. There is a certain heaviness to the book as the narrator grapples with her sister’s depression, and yet, I found it to be more about life and relationships than it was about darkness, so don’t let the subject put you off too much. Toews mixes in the right levels of humor and touching moments, but most of all, she tells the story with honesty and authenticity, and doesn’t resort to melodrama. I loved how her novel was intelligent and yet down to earth. The family has plenty of flaws, made poor decisions, and survived being a part of a conservative Mennonite community, but they are well-read and highly cultured. The book’s title comes from a Coleridge poem, ‘To a Friend’, and there are many other poetic references: Dorothy Parker (“What fresh hell is this?”), Madame de Staël (“beyond all doubt, if you are not as happy as it is possible to be, you are more beloved than anyone who has ever lived”), and Philip Larkin (“What are days for?”), among many others.

There are several frank passages on ways of committing suicide, from the drastic (in America, jumping in front of a train), to buying medications normally used to put pets to sleep (in Mexico, Nembutal preceded by an anti-emetic such as Dramamine), to being legally put to sleep (in Switzerland, where euthanasia is legal for non-citizens who’ve simply grown weary of living). And, it’s telling that it’s the sister who is beautiful, talented, smart, and has love around her in life that paradoxically wants to end it, because she’s seen its absurdity and is wrought with inner angst.

The women characters in the novel are strong, such as the feisty old mom and aunt, and the bond between the sisters is special and heartwarming. The narrator recalls one time after having her heart broken, her sister sending her a quote from Paul Valery, one word per letter, so that it takes months to decode “Breath, dreams, silence, invisible calm…you will triumph.” One does wonder, are there actually people who do this? … but it’s so incredibly sweet and literary you have to smile. The book really hits its stride in Chapter 5, mixing humor, relationships, and memories in a hospital visit between the two. Also fantastic is Chapter 8, which has some wonderful letters which are intelligent, poignant, and offbeat, essentially microcosms of the book as a whole. I don’t want to spoil anything, but will just say that Toews is skillful in navigating these waters, and I love how she played this one out.

Quotes:
On beauty:
“Her smile is an event.”

On depression:
“Did Elf have a terminal illness? Was she cursed genetically from day one to want to die? Was every seemingly happy moment from her past, every smile, every song, every heartfelt hug and laugh and exuberant fist-pump and triumph, just a temporary detour from her innate longing for release and oblivion?”

On love:
“Dan wanted me to stay. I wanted Elf to stay. Everyone in the whole world was fighting with somebody to stay. When Richard Bach wrote ‘If you love someone, set them free’ he can’t have been directing his advice at human beings.”

On time and meaninglessness:
“I tell her all right, I’ll leave but I’ll be back tomorrow. She says isn’t it funny how every second, every minute, every day, month, year, is accounted for, capable of being named – when time, or life, is so unwieldy, so intangible and slippery? This makes her feel compassion toward the people who invented the concept of ‘telling time.’ How hopeful, she says. How beautifully futile. How perfectly human.”

Lastly, these bits of humor:
“He had come to Winnipeg to write a libretto. But who hasn’t? It’s a dark and fecund corner of the world, this confluence of muddy waters, one that begs the question of hey, how do we set words to life’s tragic score?”

“She started telling stories about me when I was a kid … that I was the toughest girl in town, and that nobody made her laugh harder and that all her piano performances, really, were inspired by my life, by the wild, free, rhythm of my life, combined with its delicacy, its defiance (which I knew was shorthand for being messed up but unable to admit it), or something like that. That she tried to play her piano the way I lived my life: freely, joyfully, honestly (shorthand for: like a cheerful halfwit with no social skills).”

“I remember the sex talk she gave me when I was twelve or thirteen. She asked me if I knew what a hard-on was and I said yes and she said great! That was it, the extent of it, my terse navigational guide to the biggest minefield confronting humankind.”

“He put his arm around her and said blessings on you, girl, and she told him she was sorry that he had to visit her here. He said no. We don’t apologize for being sick, for being human, for being weary (Uncle Frank has obviously never been a woman.)” ( )
1 vote gbill | Aug 21, 2017 |
Really appreciate the premise of this book. The last chapter was stunning, but as a whole the novel was slow to unwind. ( )
  dcmr | Jul 4, 2017 |
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Our house was taken away on the back of a truck one afternoon late in the summer of 1979.
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Book description
You won't forget Elf and Yoli, two smart and loving sisters. Elfrieda, a world-renowned pianist, glamorous, wealthy, happily married: she wants to die. Yolandi, divorced, broke, sleeping with the wrong men as she tries to find true love: she desperately wants to keep her older sister alive. Yoli is a beguiling mess, wickedly funny even as she stumbles through life struggling to keep her teenage kids and her mother happy, her exes from hating her, her sister from killing herself and her own heart from breaking.

But Elf's latest suicide attempt is a shock: she is three weeks away from the opening of her highly anticipated international tour. Her longtime agent has been calling and neither Yoli nor Elf's loving husband knows what to tell him. Can she be nursed back to 'health' in  time? Does it matter? As the situation becomes ever more complicated, Yoli faces the most terrifying decision of her life.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0345808002, Hardcover)

Miriam Toews is beloved for her irresistible voice, for mingling laughter and heartwrenching poignancy like no other writer. In her most passionate novel yet, she brings us the riveting story of two sisters, and a love that illuminates life.
 
You won’t forget Elf and Yoli, two smart and loving sisters. Elfrieda, a world-renowned pianist, glamorous, wealthy, happily married: she wants to die. Yolandi, divorced, broke, sleeping with the wrong men as she tries to find true love: she desperately wants to keep her older sister alive. Yoli is a beguiling mess, wickedly funny even as she stumbles through life struggling to keep her teenage kids and mother happy, her exes from hating her, her sister from killing herself and her own heart from breaking.
 
But Elf’s latest suicide attempt is a shock: she is three weeks away from the opening of her highly anticipated international tour. Her long-time agent has been calling and neither Yoli nor Elf’s loving husband knows what to tell him. Can she be nursed back to “health” in time? Does it matter? As the situation becomes ever more complicated, Yoli faces the most terrifying decision of her life.
 
All My Puny Sorrows, at once tender and unquiet, offers a profound reflection on the limits of love, and the sometimes unimaginable challenges we experience when childhood becomes a new country of adult commitments and responsibilities. In her beautifully rendered new novel, Miriam Toews gives us a startling demonstration of how to carry on with hope and love and the business of living even when grief loads the heart.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:31 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Elfrieda, a world-renowned pianist, glamorous, wealthy, happily married: she wants to die. Yolandi, divorced, broke, sleeping with the wrong men as she tries to find true love: she desperately wants to keep her older sister alive. But Elf's latest suicide attempt is a shock: she is three weeks away from the opening of her highly anticipated international tour. Can she be nursed back to "health" in time? Does it matter? As the situation becomes ever more complicated, Yoli faces the most terrifying decision of her life.… (more)

» see all 3 descriptions

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