Cover image for All my puny sorrows
All my puny sorrows
Toews, Miriam, 1964- , author.
Publication Information:
San Francisco, CA : McSweeney's Publishing, [2014].
Physical Description:
317 pages ; 22 cm
Elfrieda, a world-renowned pianist, glamorous, wealthy, happily married: she wants to die. Yolandi, divorced, broke, sleeping with the wrong men as she tries to find true love: she desperately wants to keep her older sister alive. But Elf's latest suicide attempt is a shock: she is three weeks away from the opening of her highly anticipated international tour. Can she be nursed back to "health" in time? Does it matter? As the situation becomes ever more complicated, Yoli faces the most terrifying decision of her life.
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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.

Author Notes

Miriam Toews was born in 1964 in Canada. She is best known for her novels A Complicated Kindness and All My Puny Sorrows. She has won a number of literary prizes including the Governor General's Award for Fiction and the Writers' Trust Engel/Findley Award for body of work. She is also a two-time finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and a two-time winner of the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize. Toews had a leading role in the feature film Silent Light, written and directed by Mexican filmmaker, Carlos Reygadas and winner of the 2007 Cannes Jury Prize, an experience that influenced her fifth novel, Irma Voth.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

What makes one person survive a difficult life and another, with seemingly more gifts, feel the need to end it? Toews' (Irma Voth, 2011) latest novel tells a tale of two sisters raised in a family of outliers in a strict Canadian Mennonite community. The older sister, Elfrieda, a world-famous concert pianist married to a devoted, brilliant husband, has attempted suicide many times. Yolandi is a mess, with two children born out of wedlock, no substantive career, and a pending divorce, yet she manages to soldier on with a fierce sense of humor and hope. Yoli tries oh, how hard she tries to keep her sister alive. Much of the story has Elf in the hospital recovering from various attempts to kill herself, while Yoli pleads with her, badgers the staff, and tries to plan for a future. 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. Though not exactly a happy book, it is one that deserves to be read.--Hoover, Danise Copyright 2014 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Elfrieda's a concert pianist. When we were kids she would occasionally let me be her page-tuner for the fast pieces that she hadn't memorized." This sentence, in the voice of the younger Yolandi, crystallizes the dynamic of the two sisters in Toews's (Summer of My Amazing Luck) latest novel. While Elfrieda is the genius and the perfectionist, it is the practical, capable Yolandi on whom she depends. Over the course of this tender and bittersweet novel, Elf tours the world while Yoli stays put, has two kids with two different men but stays with neither of the fathers. It is Elf's debilitating depression and suicidal tendencies that keep the two urgently close as Yoli, for decades, does everything she can to help Elf ward off her psychological problems. The prose throughout the book is lively and original and moves along at a steady clip. Though there are some underdeveloped aspects (their upbringing in a Mennonite household, Yoli's experience of motherhood), the novel is a triumph in its depiction of the love the sisters share, as Yoli tries, just as when she was a page turner, to stay a few beats ahead. (Nov.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Library Journal Review

Starred Review. Sisters should always want what is best for each other, but what if what one sister really wants is to end her life? This is the dilemma Yoli faces when her ethereal sister, Elf, attempts suicide. The beautiful Elf is a world-renowned pianist who's in a loving relationship and about to start an international tour, but having it all doesn't matter to her when she is drowning in despair. Yoli, as she rightfully points out, is the one struggling; she's twice divorced, with children by two different fathers, and after having achieved some success as a YA series author (though she has nothing like Elf's gifts), her career has stalled. But though she and Elf are close-the bond they forged while growing up in a conservative Mennonite town in Canada is central to the narrative-depression is hard to understand from the outside. VERDICT Despite the topic, this is not a dark novel. In fact, its gloom comes in the form of dark humor, and Toews (Irma Voth) does a wonderful job with her characters, none of whom are perfect, which makes them all the more real. It requires a talented author to take a serious subject and write such an engaging, enjoyable work.-Shaunna E. Hunter, Hampden-Sydney Coll. Lib., VA (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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