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A Complicated Kindness: A Novelby Miriam Toews
2004 Governor General's Award Winner
2004 Giller Prize Shortlist
Sharp and often howlingly funny — but insistently generous — A Complicated Kindness introduces sixteen-year-old Nomi Nickel, straining under the pressure of family, boys, and authority, common enough conflicts drawn here in extravagant, heartrending detail.
This is simply the funniest, sweetest, coolest book of 2004. If you like Canadian Mennonites, you'll love A Complicated Kindness.
Synopses & Reviews
"Half of our family, the better-looking half, is missing," Nomi tells us at the beginning of A Complicated Kindness. Left alone with her sad, peculiar father, her days are spent piecing together why her mother and sister have disappeared and contemplating her inevitable career at Happy Family Farms, a chicken slaughterhouse on the outskirts of East Village — not the East Village in New York City where Nomi would prefer to live, but a dull, oppressive town founded by Mennonites on the cold, flat plains of Manitoba, Canada.
This moving, darkly funny novel is the world according to Nomi Nickel, a bewildered and wry sixteen-year-old trapped in a town governed by fundamentalist religion. In Nomi's droll, refreshing voice, we're told the story of her eccentric, touching family as it falls apart, each member on a collision course with the only community they have ever known. A work of fierce humor and tragedy by a writer poised to take the American market by storm, this searing, tender, comic testament to family love will break your heart.
"A 16-year-old rebels against the conventions of her strict Mennonite community and tries to come to terms with the collapse of her family in this insightful, irreverent coming-of-age novel. In bleak rural Manitoba, Nomi longs for her older sister, Tash ('she was so earmarked for damnation it wasn't even funny'), and mother, Trudie, each of whom has recently fled fundamentalist Christianity and their town. Her gentle, uncommunicative father, Ray, isn't much of a sounding board as Nomi plunges into bittersweet memory and grapples with teenage life in a 'kind of a cult with pretend connections to some normal earthly conventions.' Once a 'curious, hopeful child' Nomi now relies on biting humor as her life spins out of control — she stops attending school, shaves her head and wanders around in a marijuana-induced haze — while Ray sells off most of their furniture, escapes on all-night drives and increasingly withdraws into himself. Still, she and Ray are linked in a tender, if fragile, partnership as each slips into despair. Though the narration occasionally unravels into distracting stream of consciousness, the unsentimental prose and the poignant character interactions sustain reader interest. Bold, tender and intelligent, this is a clear-eyed exploration of belief and belonging, and the irresistible urge to escape both. Agent, Knopf Canada. Author tour. (Oct.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"[Toews] has an artful way of weaving her anecdotes together....There is beauty and compassion in her portrayal of Nomi's struggle, and there is also grudging sympathy for the people Nomi struggles to define herself against." New York Times
"[Toews's] episodic, highly introspective first novel...maintains a careful balance between hilarity and heartbreak that most readers will find unforgettable." Booklist (Starred Review)
"A Complicated Kindness just may be a future classic in its own right....Simply put, this is a wonderful book because it reminds us of the beauty and meaning in one small moment of one small life." Philadelphia Inquirer
"Offering incisive reflections on life, death and Lou Reed, the black-sheep Nomi is clearly wise beyond her years, and her voice is unique. The road to anywhere else may be rough for her, but her angst-ridden journey is unforgettable." People Magazine
"[Nomi's] wry observations reflect normal adolescent angst leavened with a distinctly parochial irreverence. Teens with real issues as well as those who would benefit by realizing that they don't have it so bad will find sadness and hope in Nomi's thoughtful musings and root for her survival." School Library Journal
"[A]musing if somewhat rambling....Toews captures the spurts and lurches of adolescent growth in a tale as crude and fresh as its subject matter." Kirkus Reviews
"A Complicated kindness...makes the novel more generous than it is bitter in spirit, and more revealing." Seattle Times
"Nomi Nickel is a sassy 16-year-old whose mother and sister have bolted from their Mennonite community, leaving Nomi with her off-kilter father in a repressive town where rebellion is severely punished." O, The Oprah Magazine
"Miriam Toews has written a novel shot through with aching sadness, the spectre of loss, and unexpected humor....It might seem an odd metaphor to use about someone who has authored such a vivid, anguished indictment of religious fundamentalism, but Miriam Toews writes like an angel." David Rakoff, author of Fraud
"Wise, edgy, unforgettable, the heroine of Miriam Toews' knockout novel is Canada?s next classic." The Globe and Mail
"Miriam Toews's brilliant third novel, A Complicated Kindness...is told in Nomi's cocky, brooding voice." New York Times Book Review
"The narrative voice is so strong, it could carry the least eventful, least weird adolescence in the world and still be as transfixing.... Toews' novel is a wonderfully acute, moving, warm, sceptical, frustrated portrait of fundamentalist religion....The book is fascinating, and resonant, and inexorable..." The Guardian (UK)
"A Complicated Kindness struck me like a blow to the solar plexus. Toews, somewhat like Mordecai Richler, makes you feel the pain of her protagonist while elucidating the predicament of her people, always mixing a large dose of empathy with her iconoclastic sense of the ridiculous." Pat Donnelly, The Gazette (Montreal)
"In a novel full of original characters...Toews has created a feisty but appealing young heroine....As an indictment against religious fundamentalism, A Complicated Kindness is timely. As a commentary on character it is fresh and inventive, and as storytelling it is first rate." The London Free Press
"A Complicated Kindness is affecting, impeccably written, and has real authority, but most of all it is immediate. You — as they say — are there...like waking up in a crazy Bible camp, or witnessing an adolescent tour guide tear off her uniform and make a break for the highway. Quill & Quire
"At times [Nomi is] all bravado and sardonic wit regarding her faith, but beneath that is a 16-year-old who's spent sleepless nights praying for her family's salvation. By way of Jesus Christ or John Lennon, she's never quite sure." Ruminator Review
"The wry 16-year-old, trapped in a tiny Mennonite community in southern Manitoba, earns readers' sympathy and adoration from her first angst-drenched rage." Bloomsbury Review
"Toews recreates the stultifying world of an exasperated Mennonite teenager in a small town where nothing happens with mesmerizing authenticity." Toronto Star
"A Complicated Kindness is a delight from beginning to end. The humour might be of the blackest sort ('People here just can't wait to die, it seems. It's the main event.'), but the cumulative effect is liberating and defiantly joyful." Daily Mail
About the Author
Miriam Toews is the author of two novels: Summer of My Amazing Luck (nominated for the Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal and winner of the John Hirsch Award) and A Boy of Good Breeding (winner of the McNally Robinson Book of the Year Award) and one work of non-fiction: Swing Low: A Life (winner of the McNally Robinson Book of the Year Award and the Alexander Kennedy Isbister Award for Non-Fiction). She has written for CBC, This American Life (NPR), Saturday Night, Geist, Canadian Geographic, Open Letters and The New York Times Magazine, and has won the National Magazine Award Gold Medal for Humour. Miriam Toews lives in Winnipeg.
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