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A Complicated Kindness: A Novel by Miriam…
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A Complicated Kindness: A Novel (original 2004; edition 2019)

by Miriam Toews (Author)

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1,960625,427 (3.64)194
In this stunning coming-of-age novel, award-winner Miriam Toews balances grief and hope in the voice of a witty, beleaguered teenager whose family is shattered by fundamentalist Christianity "Half of our family, the better-looking half, is missing," Nomi Nickel tells us at the beginning of A Complicated Kindness. Left alone with her sad, peculiar father, her days are spent piecing together why her mother and sister have disappeared and contemplating her inevitable career at Happy Family Farms, a chicken slaughterhouse on the outskirts of East Village. Not the East Village in New York City where Nomi would prefer to live, but an oppressive town founded by Mennonites on the cold, flat plains of Manitoba, Canada. This darkly funny novel is the world according to the unforgettable Nomi, a bewildered and wry sixteen-year-old trapped in a town governed by fundamentalist religion and in the shattered remains of a family it destroyed. In Nomi's droll, refreshing voice, we're told the story of an eccentric, loving family that falls apart as each member lands on a collision course with the only community any of them have ever known. A work of fierce humor and tragedy by a writer who has taken the American market by storm, this searing, tender, comic testament to family love will break your heart.… (more)
Member:rsairs
Title:A Complicated Kindness: A Novel
Authors:Miriam Toews (Author)
Info:Counterpoint (2019), Edition: Reprint, 272 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****
Tags:None

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A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews (2004)

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    The Romance Reader by Pearl Abraham (nessreader)
    nessreader: Both first person coming of age novels about young girls in repressive religous communities.
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» See also 194 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 61 (next | show all)
If 3.5 stars were an option...but I'll error on the side of generosity. I know something of the world Toews describes. I found it entertaining and rewarding. I did grow tired of it about 2/3 of the way through. I felt like telling the author, "ok, I've got it. Move on." For all it's very interesting look into Nomi's teenage mind, somehow it lacked some depth. Even stoned and confused, I suspect more would be going on inside. ( )
  rsairs | Nov 3, 2019 |
I normally avoid books which have won any kind of prize, or even been nominated. But I read this for a book club. My usual practice was thoroughly vindicated. A Canadian Prairie Catcher in the Rye: teenage angst, conflicting emotions, sentiment, self-pity. Extremely repetitious. Full of cheap shots at easy targets. An unconvincing ending, but by that point I had ceased to care.
Postscript: Book club attendee, a CanLit professor with personal and professional Mennonite credentials, noted that in this novel Toews does not attempt an accurate portrayal of the Mennonite community in which she was raised, so what I perceived as cheap shots at it were perhaps more nuanced and part of a more complicated agenda. Didn’t make me like the book any better, however.
  booksaplenty1949 | Nov 1, 2019 |
This is a coming-of-age story set in a small Mennonite town, East Village, in southern Manitoba. The narrator-protagonist, Nomi (Naomi) Nickel, lives with her father Ray as she completes her senior year of high school -- envisioning nothing in her future except killing chickens in the local slaughter house. Her elder sister Tash (Natasha) had escaped the town three years earlier with her boyfriend, and her mother, Trudi, left shortly afterward under unexplained circumstances. She's not doing well in school, especially in her English class, as her teacher refuses to accept any of the subversive topics she wants to write about. The events of the year mirror that of millions of teenagers in small towns -- taking up with a new boyfriend, smoking pot, going to wild parties, worrying about her hospitalized best friend, but Nomi also takes care of the household and her father, a devout Mennonite whose life has been shattered by the loss of his wife and his life as he knew it. I found the book beautifully written with descriptions of the natural world, Nomi's speculations about her parents' lives, and her periodic pondering of how she navigates her own life. The novel is funny and sad, but not the least bit sentimental. ( )
  janeajones | May 10, 2019 |
In A Complicated Kindness, Miriam Toews captures the spirit of boredom and desolation that comes from being trapped in a backward small town like few authors of her generation. Set in the Mennonite settlement of East Village in remote southern Manitoba, near the US border, the novel is narrated by 16-year-old, pot-smoking, wise-cracking Nomi Nickel, daughter of Ray and Trudie Nickel and younger sister of Natasha (Tash). The focus of Nomi’s story is the gradual breakup of a family that, on the face of things, never had much of a chance. When the story begins, Nomi (actually Naomi, but she dropped the ‘a’) and her father Ray are the only two Nickels remaining in the family home, Tash having absconded three years previously with her boyfriend Ian, and Trudie taking off under more mysterious circumstances a few weeks later. Nomi often contemplates the bleak, soul-crushing future that awaits her: graduating from high school, fifty years of killing chickens at the slaughterhouse on the edge of town, and then dying. But despite neglecting her schoolwork and an outward attitude that ranges from sullen to rebellious, Nomi’s sense of responsibility is fully formed, and in the absence of her mother and sister, and driven by love and a sense of duty to take care of her helpless, bewildered father, she has picked up the household chores, cleaning, doing laundry and cooking meals. Ray’s tortured dilemma is the novel in microcosm: a devout Mennonite who willingly toes the line and does everything that’s expected of him, but who also loves his wife and daughters, all of whom chafe feverishly against the restrictions of a faith that demonizes the pleasures of the modern world and instructs its adherents that serving God is the only reason for their existence. The novel’s chief antagonist is Trudie’s brother Hans, who has risen through the ranks and wields something like absolute power in the local Mennonite community. Toews does not tell a straightforward story. The novel is loosely structured. But Nomi’s narration, peppered with non-sequiturs and skipping freely back and forth between past and present, is not difficult to follow. Moreover, Nomi’s teenage voice is charmingly cynical, endlessly entertaining and absolutely convincing. Miriam Toews’ breakthrough novel was greeted with universal acclaim upon its publication in 2004 and landed on numerous award shortlists. A stunning achievement. ( )
  icolford | Apr 16, 2019 |
I have very mixed feelings about this book. There were times that I just wanted to put it aside, there was not much going on, and other times I kept reading to see what was going to happen to Nomi.

This book is sad and depressing, but Nomi does not give up. She fights the only way she can by rebelling against the religious rules that have caused her mother and sister to leave the small town they live in. Her father seemed to be weak and pathetic, but he made the ultimate sacrifice for what he believed in, his family. Once I got into the book, I was disappointed in the ending. What happened to Nomi? What happened to her mother and sister? What about her dad? There are so many loose ends in this story. I do not know a lot about the Mennonite community, but their way of life and the power of their leader seemed a bit harsh. I often say the same thing about a lot of our Canadian Authors, it is either humourous or depressing, not a lot in between. This fits the latter. ( )
  Carlathelibrarian | Feb 5, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 61 (next | show all)
Those of us who felt oppressed as teenagers can easily recall how any act of rule-bending, whether it was puffing a cigarette or starting an ill-advised romance, could seem an enormous yet thrilling risk of outsized proportions.
 
[Toews] has produced a work of fiction that resounds with truth.... That is at once a profoundly funny book, and a profoundly sad one, which will often leave readers wondering if they should laugh or cry.
added by GYKM | editWinnipeg Free Press
 
Unforgettable.
added by GYKM | editPeople
 
Exquisitely written and faceted.... Heartbreaking and humorous... From beginning to end the book is unusually calibrated and incredibly compelling.
added by GYKM | editThe Guardian
 
A darkly funny and provocative novel.
added by GYKM | editO, The Oprah Magazine
 
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I live with my father, Ray Nickel, in that low brick bungalow out on highway number twelve.
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Life being what it is, one dreams of revenge.
Love is everything. And I think that we all use whatever is in our power, whatever is within our reach, to attempt to keep alive the love we've felt.
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