Thursday, July 26

Book Review: A Complicated Kindness

Title: A Complicated Kindness

Author: Miriam Toews

Pages: 246

Summary: "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.

My Rating: 5.5/10

What I liked/disliked about the book: I couldn't get into this book and it quickly lost my interest. I didn't find the story to be interesting and I couldn't bring myself to like the narrator enough to truly understand her or feel for her. This is a book where you need to feel a connection with the narrator/protagonist to appreciate the story and that didn't happen for me. I didn't find her to be a likeable character. It was a good example of coming of age and a slow progression of finding one's self and their place within their community, but I couldn't get into the book. I felt the book stood still for most of the time, and it took me a long time to see the characters progression.

I think the setting also affected how I felt about the book. I have never been very interested in the lives of the Mennonites, and since this book focuses so heavily on that, it also deterred me from liking it. Because the way they live their lives according to the narrator, I felt the book to be somewhat repetitive having the day to day details and what the future may hold take away from other aspects of the book.

Near the end I began to see a different side of things and I did like the ending. Unfortunately by that point the turnaround was a little too late. In the end not the book for me.

Would I recommend it to read: I'm not sure. It seems to be a popular and well liked book by other reviewers. I just found it didn't reach me. Up in the air for this one.

What to read next: I'd try other Governor General Award Winners or Canada Reads winners, as this book has won both.

Challenges: 12 in 12, 100+ Challenge, Canadian Book Challenge VI, New Author Challenge


  1. I've never been a fan of Toews' over-the-top quirk. That said, I think she deserves credit (blame?) for pushing CanLit in that direction. We seemed to have gone from stuffy literature to zany unrelatable literature. I don't mean that to come across as bad as it sounds-- I actually feel it's necessary in order for a pendulum to swing on occasion. Still, I'll be happy when it settles.

    1. Yes, I think the over-the-top quirk was what did it for me. Interesting thoughts on the zany unrelatable literature. Judging by some of the newer Canadian Fiction I've read recently, you have a point. I prefer the middle ground myself.

  2. I agree. I couldn't bring myself to like this one either, when I read it quite a few years ago. And I *am* interested in the lives of the Mennonites; my maternal ancestry is Mennonite; my mother was born in Canada shortly after my grandparents arrived from Russia in the 1920s, part of the Mennonite diaspora following the Russian Revolution and WWI.

    I was attracted by the rave reviews but it did not hold my interest. I too really could not bring myself to care about the characters enough to enter into their story.

    So, Jules, you are not alone!

    1. Good to hear I'm not alone! It did have a lot of rave reviews. I was partially attracted by that, and the awards it had won.

      Very interesting to see about your personal ancestry and how it has a small connection with you! Thanks for sharing that!

  3. It sounds like this is one that I would not like. If I have to try too hard to relate to the main character in a coming of age novel, it just ruins the whole thing for me, and it sounds like that is what happened to you here. I don't need a lot of repetition either. An author can make a point without having to have the same scenes over and over again. I'm sorry this one wasn't that great for you. It sounds a bit boring.

    1. Yes, but I think the style is part of the author quirkyness. Still, repetivness = annoying after awhile. This one is hard t say if you'd enjoy it, despite the issues I had with it.