Summary and book reviews of All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews

All My Puny Sorrows

by Miriam Toews

All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews
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  • First Published:
    Nov 2014, 330 pages
    Paperback:
    Jul 2015, 330 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

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About this Book

Book Summary

This is Toews at her finest: a story that is as much comedy as it is tragedy, a goodbye grin from the friend who taught you how to live.

Elf and Yoli are sisters. While on the surface Elfrieda's life is enviable (she's a world-renowned pianist, glamorous, wealthy, and happily married) and Yolandi's a mess (she's divorced and broke, with two teenagers growing up too quickly), they are fiercely close — raised in a Mennonite household and sharing the hardship of Elf's desire to end her life. After Elf's latest attempt, Yoli must quickly determine how to keep her family from falling apart, how to keep her own heart from breaking, and what it means to love someone who wants to die.

All My Puny Sorrows is the latest novel from Miriam Toews, one of Canada's most beloved authors — not only because her work is rich with deep human feeling and compassion but because her observations are knife-sharp and her books wickedly funny. And this is Toews at her finest: a story that is as much a comedy as it is a tragedy, a goodbye grin from the friend who taught you how to live.

Excerpt
All My Puny Sorrows

Elf has beautiful hands, not ravaged by time or sun because she doesn't go out much. But the hospital has taken her rings. I don't know why. I guess you could choke on a ring if you decided to swallow it, or pound it against your head for several weeks non-stop until you did some damage. You could throw it into a fast river and dive for it.

How are you feeling right now? Janice is saying.

If I squint across the room at Elf I can change her eyes into dark forests and her lashes into tangled branches. Her green eyes are replicas of my father's, spooky and beautiful and unprotected from the raw bloodiness of the world.

Fine. She smiles feebly. Dick Riculous.

I'm sorry? says Janice.

She's quoting our mother, I say. She says things like that. Chuck you Farley. You know. She means ridiculous.

Elfrieda, you're not being ridiculed, okay? says Janice. Right? Yoli, are you ridiculing Elf?

No, I say, not at all.

And neither am I, ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

All My Puny Sorrows is surprisingly uplifting considering the weighty themes with which it wrestles. True, there's a lot of pain embedded in its pages, but ultimately Yoli's unconditional and near-reverential love for her sister are what will remain with readers. Toward the end of the novel, the author cites T.H. Lawrence: "We've got to live, no matter how many skies have fallen." I think the quote also helps explains why the book feels so positive in spite of its grim subject matter - the story becomes one of survival and acceptance, of moving on and healing. I can't recommend this one highly enough to anyone looking for a book that's both complex and well-written.   (Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

Full Review (757 words).

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Media Reviews

The Globe and Mail

Toews is an extraordinarily gifted writer, with unsentimental compassion for her people and an honest understanding of their past, the tectonic shifts of their present and variables of their future.

The Dallas Morning News

Bold, brash and big-hearted...She’s a smart aleck with heart, a philosopher with a comic’s timing.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

[A] sad, wise, often funny and very good novel.

The Washington Post

In the crucible of [Miriam Toews’] genius, tears and laughter are ground into some magical elixir that seems like the essence of life.

The New York Times

Irresistible… its intelligence, its honesty and, above all, its compassion provide a kind of existential balm—a comfort not unlike the sort you might find by opening a bottle of wine and having a long conversation with (yes, really) a true friend.

Entertainment Weekly

[A] wrenchingly honest, darkly funny novel. (Grade: A)

Booklist

Toews writes with a sharp and piercing eye, offering characters and descriptions which are so odd and yet so spot-on that the reader has to laugh, albeit reluctantly.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. [A] triumph in its depiction of the love the sisters share.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. 'Sadness is what holds our bones in place,' Yoli thinks. Toews deepens our understanding of the pain found in Coleridge's poetry, which is the source of the book's title.

Library Journal

Starred Review. It requires a talented author to take a serious subject and write such an engaging, enjoyable work.

Reader Reviews

stacerbase

excellent
This is a wonderful novel. Extremely moving and sad, and funny. Toews characters are so well written that I felt that I knew them. This would make a great book club read. A lot of discussion would for sure follow, but also quite depressing.

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Beyond the Book

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

All My Puny Sorrows takes its title from a line in a poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772 – 1834), who is considered by many to be the founder of the Romantic Movement in poetry. He is most famous for the poems Kubla Khan and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Both his works and his literary criticism had huge influences on poets William Wordsworth (who was also a close friend) and Ralph Waldo Emerson, as well as on American transcendentalism.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge Coleridge was born in the rural town of Otterly St. Mary in Devonshire, England, the youngest of fourteen children. His father was the local vicar and headmaster of the town's grammar school, and upon his sudden death in 1781, the eight-year-old Samuel was sent to study at Christ'...

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