Irma Voth

Irma Voth

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by Miriam Toews
     
 

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That rare coming-of-age story able to blend the dark with the uplifting, Irma Voth follows a young Mennonite woman, vulnerable yet wise beyond her years, who carries a terrible family secret with her on a remarkable journey to survival and redemption.

Nineteen-year-old Irma lives in a rural Mennonite community in Mexico. She has already been cast out of

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Overview

That rare coming-of-age story able to blend the dark with the uplifting, Irma Voth follows a young Mennonite woman, vulnerable yet wise beyond her years, who carries a terrible family secret with her on a remarkable journey to survival and redemption.

Nineteen-year-old Irma lives in a rural Mennonite community in Mexico. She has already been cast out of her family for marrying a young Mexican ne’er-do-well she barely knows, although she remains close to her rebellious younger sister and yearns for the lost intimacy with her mother. With a husband who proves elusive and often absent, a punishing father, and a faith in God damaged beyond repair, Irma appears trapped in an untenable and desperate situation. When a celebrated Mexican filmmaker and his crew arrive from Mexico City to make a movie about the insular community in which she was raised, Irma is immediately drawn to the outsiders and is soon hired as a translator on the set. But her father, intractable and domineering, is determined to destroy the film and get rid of the interlopers. His action sets Irma on an irrevocable path toward something that feels like freedom.

A novel of great humanity, written with dry wit, edgy humor, and emotional poignancy, Irma Voth is the powerful story of a young woman’s quest to discover all that she may become in the unexpectedly rich and confounding world that lies beyond the stifling, observant community she knows.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Toews's (A Complicated Kindness) story unfolds in a remote Mennonite outpost in Mexico, where the strictly observant cross paths with the narcos, creating an uncomfortable cultural mix of Spanish, English, and Low German. Nineteen-year-old Irma tells of her own alienation from the Mennonites after marrying a young Mexican man. Though she still lives near her family, her patriarchal father has ordered her shunned (her spirited little sister, however, continues to visit, half-angry, half-longing for brief contact). After a quick wedding, Irma's husband is rarely home, and Irma is lonely until an eccentric crew of filmmakers arrives to make a movie set among the Mennonites. Irma works as a translator and finds much in common with these artists and lost souls. But her father holds an overblown hatred of the filmmakers, believing them evil. When his menacing opposition begins to threaten the film—and her sister's safety—Irma, ennobled by her experience on the production, makes a radical choice that will greatly affect her family. With her fifth novel, Toews, who was born into a Mennonite community in Canada, combines an intimate coming-of-age tale with picaresque and extremely effective prose. (Sept.)
Annie Proulx
“A strong and skillful novel . . . a parable of redemption, a powerful theme . . . that leaves the reader with a comforting glow of hope.”
Time Magazines Literary Supplement (London)
"Miriam Toews has a remarkably light touch. She combines a playfully sardonic humour with crushing pathos."
Maria Russo
“ . . . endearingly odd and affecting . . . [Toews] writes with an instinctive grasp of the adolescent point of view.”
Booklist
“Simultaneously poignant and humorous . . . perfectly captures this young woman’s attempt to find her niche in a world so different from that in which she was raised . . . Toews’s unique voice shines.”
Times Literary Supplement (London)
“Miriam Toews has a remarkably light touch. She combines a playfully sardonic humour with crushing pathos.”
The Washington Independent Review of Books
“A witty and thoughtful coming-of-age story. . . . A novel about parenthood and sisterhood, and about redefining those relationships as people grow . . . it succeeds tremendously.”
Montreal Gazette
“In this compelling and beautiful novel, Toews’s quirky and authentic voice shows increasing range and maturity. She is well on her way to fulfilling her promise as an important and serious writer.”
USA Today
“The wryly funny title character keeps the story poignant.”
Kirkus Reviews

An unworldly Mennonite girl with a tainted past considers a life without the direction of her father, her husband or God, then implements it, in the latest from Canadian writer Toews (The Flying Troutmans, 2008, etc.).

Nineteen-year-old Irma is already breaking away from her Mennonite community in Mexico as the novel opens. Her marriage to Jorge, who is involved in the drug trade, has brought down the wrath of her dictatorial father, and the family chasm only deepens when a film crew arrives and Irma starts working for them as a translator. Irma's voice—minimal, introverted, bewildered—lends poetic intensity, softened by a tragi-comic edge, to the initially slow-moving story. As tensions rise between the bohemian film crew and the rigid religious community and her marriage disintegrates, Irma plans her escape, accompanied by her 13-year-old sister and, then, at her mother's behest, the new baby. Now the narrative springs to life as the girls exchange austerity for freedom and friendship in Mexico City, where students help them to settle. Pleasure and creativity enliven them, but past deeds must still be reconciled, a task which Irma eventually begins to tackle.

A literary novel marked by charm, wit and an original approach to language, weakened by polarized characters and a shift from gritty to soft-centered.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780062070180
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
09/06/2011
Pages:
272
Product dimensions:
5.80(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.00(d)

What People are saying about this

Annie Proulx
“A strong and skillful novel . . . a parable of redemption, a powerful theme . . . that leaves the reader with a comforting glow of hope.”
Maria Russo
“ . . . endearingly odd and affecting . . . [Toews] writes with an instinctive grasp of the adolescent point of view.”

Meet the Author

Miriam Toews was born in the small Mennonite town of Steinbach, Manitoba. She has published five novels and a memoir of her father, and is the recipient of numerous literary awards in Canada, including the Governor General’s Literary Award (for A Complicated Kindness) and the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize (for The Flying Troutmans). In 2010 she received the prestigious Writers’ Trust Engel/Findley Award for her body of work. Irma Voth is Toews’s most recent novel. She lives in Toronto.

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