Excerpt from Irma Voth by Miriam Toews, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Irma Voth

A Novel

By Miriam Toews

Irma Voth
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     Not Yet Rated
  • Hardcover: Sep 2011,
    272 pages.
    Paperback: Apr 2012,
    272 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Jennifer Dawson Oakes

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ONE

Jorge said he wasn't coming back until I learned how to be a better wife. He said it's okay to touch him with my arm or my leg or my foot, if it's clean, when we're sleeping but not to smother him like a second skin. I asked him how could that be, I hardly saw him any more and he said that's a good thing for you. He said people always lie about their reasons for leaving and what difference does it make?


I blocked the doorway so he wouldn't leave and I begged him not to go. He put his hands on my shoulders and then he rubbed my arms like he was trying to warm me up and I put my hands on his waist.

I asked him how I was supposed to develop the skills to be a wife if I didn't have a husband to practise with and he said that was the type of question that contributed to my loneliness. I asked him why he was trying to blindside me with answers that attempted only to categorize my questions and I asked him why he was acting so strange lately and where his problem with the way I slept with my leg over his leg had come from and why he kept going away and why he was trying so hard to be a tough guy instead of just Jorge and then he pulled me close to him and he asked me to please stop talking, to stop shivering, to stop blocking the door, to stop crying and to stop loving him.

I asked him how I was supposed to do that and he said no, Irma, we're not kids anymore, don't say anything else. I wanted to ask him what loving him had to do with being childish but I did what he told me to do and I kept my mouth shut. He looked so sad, his eyes were empty, they were half closed, and he kissed me and he left. But before he drove off he gave me a new flashlight with triple C batteries and I'm grateful for it because this is a very dark, pitch-black part of the world.

The first time I met Jorge was at the rodeo in Rubio. He wasn't a cowboy or a roper, he was just a guy watching in the stands. We weren't allowed to go to rodeos normally but my father was away from home, visiting another colony in Belize, and my mother told my sister Aggie and me that we could take the truck and go to the rodeo for the day if we took the boys with us so she could rest. She might have been pregnant. Or maybe she had just lost the baby. I'm not sure. But she didn't care about rules that afternoon so, miraculously, we found ourselves at a rodeo. Maybe it was the pure adrenalin rush of being away from the farm that made me feel bold but I noticed Jorge sitting there by himself, watching intently, and kind of moving his body subtly in a way that matched the movements of the real cowboys, and I thought it was funny, and so I decided to go up to him and say hello.

Are you pretending to be a cowboy? I asked him in Spanish.

He smiled, he was a little embarrassed, I think.

Are you pretending to be a Mennonitzcha? he said.

No, I really am, I said.

He asked me if I wanted to sit next to him and I said yes, but only for a minute because I had to get back to Aggie and the boys.

We had a conversation in broken English and Spanish but it wasn't much of one because as soon as I sat down beside him my boldness evaporated and my knees started to shake from nervousness. I was worried that somebody would see me talking to a Mexican boy and tell my father. Jorge told me he was in town buying something, I can't remember what, for his mother who lived in Chihuahua city. He told me that he had a job delivering cars over the U.S. border from Juárez to El Paso and that he got paid forty American dollars a car and he didn't ask questions.

Questions about what? I asked him.

Anything, he said.

But about what? I said.

About what's in the cars or who's paying me or when or just anything. I don't ask, he said. He seemed a little nervous, so we both looked around at the people in the stands for a minute without saying much.

Excerpted from Irma Voth by Miriam Toews. Copyright © 2011 by Miriam Toews. Excerpted by permission of Harper. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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