Tuesday, November 15, 2011
Out of Time, Out of Place
"Irma Voth, the narrator of the Canadian writer Miriam Toews’s new novel, has a name that sounds as if she’s a plucky 19th-century heroine, and she has a life imported from another century as well. Irma is a Mennonite living on an isolated farm near the city of Chihuahua, Mexico, where her family fled from Canada after the death of Irma’s older sister.
'We live like ghosts,' Irma says of the Mennonites. This strict Christian sect has a history of abrupt departures after persecution by governments that grow tired of their quest to live, as Irma puts it, 'purely but somewhat out of context.' Nineteen-year-old Irma herself is now living completely out of context, having been expelled by her father for marrying a Mexican, who promptly disappeared. She lives alone in a house near her family, discouraged from talking to them, not quite sure how everything went so wrong. [...]
This is Toews’s fifth novel, and I wonder if she would be marketed as a writer of young adult fiction if she were to begin her career today, when that category has finally been recognized for its literary merit and appeal, even to adult readers. She writes with an instinctive grasp of the adolescent point of view, in which concepts like personal freedom and self- determination have the highest emotional charge and adults are powerful but slightly irrelevant beings. Her most celebrated novel, A Complicated Kindness, is narrated by another Mennonite teenager, who also rejects her repressive heritage and is forced to live by her own considerable wits. Like Irma Voth, it’s a sly, humorous but still distressing evocation of a young Mennonite’s predicament, which is your standard small-town adolescent crisis magnified by a thousand — depression thick in the air, attempts to navigate any aspect of one’s life systematically quashed, shame heaped upon any nonconformist behavior."
— Maria Russo, The New York Times
Get all of Miriam Toews's books here...