Posts Tagged Miriam Toews

BOOKS: My 20 Best of 2011

I’ve read about 100 books this year. These 20 made particularly lasting impressions.

1. The Cat’s Table by Michael Ondaajte [Knopf]

2. Caribou Island by David Vann [Harper]

3. The Last Brother by Nathacha Appanha [Greywolf Press]

4. A Stranger on the Planet by Adam Schwartz [Soho Press]

5. The Astral by Kate Christensen [Doubleday]

6. State of Wonder by Ann Patchett [Harper]

7. The Submission by Amy Waldman [F,S&G]

8. Irma Voth by Miriam Toews [Harper]

9. The Rape of the Muse by Michael Stein [The Permanent Press]

10. The Lies Have It by Jill Edmondson [Iguana]

11. The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta [St. Martins]

12. My New American Life by Francine Prose [Harper]

13. Close Your Eyes by Amanda Eyre Ward [Random House]

14. The Singular Exploits of Wonder Mom & Party Girl by Marc Schuster [The Permanent Press]

15. The Grief of Others by Leah Hager Cohen [Riverhead]

16. The Ringer by Jenny Shank [The Permanent Press]

17. Slant by Timothy Wang [Tincture]

18. The Bird Sisters by Rebecca Rasmussen [Crown]

19. The Social Climber’s Handbook by Molly Jong-Fast [Villard]

20. Ten Thousand Saints by Eleanor Henderson [Ecco]

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Irma Voth: book review

Irma Voth , by Miriam Toews. Publisher: Harper (September 2011). Literary Fiction.272 pp.

I thought about bringing a cow into the house for company, just one. A small one. Or I could sleep in the barn like Jesus but without the entourage or the pressure to perform. I lay in my bed thinking of ways I could make Jorge happy if he ever came home again.

19-year-old Irma Voth lives a solitary existence within an isolated Mennonite community in Mexico. After she married a Mexican man to her parents’ dismay and fury, she’s basically been cast out on her own. Now her husband Jorge left and Irma doesn’t quite know what she should do. When a well-known filmmaker and his crew arrive to make a narrative film about the Mennonites, curious Irma lands a position as interpreter [she speaks English, Old German and Spanish]. As time goes on we learn about Irma’s abusive father and difficult family life as well as her lack of choices. When her little sister Aggie runs away to Irma and the film crew everything changes. Irma must now look out for her 13-year-old sister. When their father disrupts the film, Irma and Aggie flee with their baby sister [at their mother’s urging] to Mexico City to begin anew.

Miriam Toews writes with splendid style and a sharp, humorous tone. She’s created a strong, independent, clever woman in Irma Voth. It’s both positive and negative that she leaves out information about the Mennonites and their community. It allows for an air of mystery and for Irma to stand out in a unique way. Irma Voth is a memorable, ideal novel about survival, choice and the search for identity.

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