When All My Puny Sorrows debuted last year, I shied away from the book because I assumed it would be sad. Lucky for me, my friend lent me her copy and I’m so glad she did because this book was so good! I may have even picked it over Station Eleven as the best book I read in 2014 if I had finished it by the end of the year.
Miriam Toews is a Canadian writer and All My Puny Sorrows is her seventh book. In 2014, the book won the Rogers Writer’s Trust Fiction Prize and was shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize. Miriam says the story is based on the 2010 suicide of her own sister.
* CONTAINS SPOILERS
All My Puny Sorrows is the touching story of Elf and Yoli, two extremely close sisters growing up in a Mennonite community and their muddled lives as adults. The reader goes back and forth in time with Yoli describing their relationship, their unconventional parents and Elf’s career as concert pianist. Depression seems to be a family trait and after years of suffering, Elf is committed to a hospital after attempting to end her life. Yoli, Elf’s husband and numerous family and friends rally to convince Elf that she is loved and she can’t give up on life, but Elf has made up her mind and has other plans.
While I was impressed by how Jojo Moyes handled the subject of suicide in Me Before You, Miriam Toews takes it to a whole other level, one with beauty, wisdom and laughter. Even now, I feel that description hardly gives enough due to her excellent writing. I truly enjoyed Yoli as the narrator, a disheveled single mom going through a divorce and who is constantly on the brink of losing her mind.
If anything, the topic of suicide and assisted suicide may be a delicate one for some readers.
All My Puny Sorrows is a brilliant novel about loving someone deeply and how much your loved ones are a part of you. Although the subject matter is heavy, Miriam Toews’ storytelling keeps the tone mostly spirited and funny, lightly exploring the impact of depression and suicide. Her characters were so vivid in my mind, I felt as if I knew them in real life. I loved Yoli’s slapdash approach to each day, better-laugh-before-I-cry thinking and empathized deeply as she tried so hard to prove her love to her sister. A beautiful, unforgettable book that I highly recommend.