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A Complicated Kindness

Written by: Miriam Toews
Narrated by: Miriam Toews
Length: 6 hrs and 44 mins
4 out of 5 stars (47 ratings)
Price: CDN$ 29.83
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Publisher's Summary

Sixteen-year-old Nomi Nickel longs to hang out with Lou Reed and Marianne Faithfull in New York City's East Village. Instead she's trapped in East Village, Manitoba, a small town whose population is Mennonite: "the most embarrassing sub-sect of people to belong to if you're a teenager." East Village is a town with no train and no bar whose job prospects consist of slaughtering chickens at the Happy Family Farms abattoir or churning butter for tourists at the pioneer village. Ministered with an iron fist by Nomi's uncle Hans, a.k.a. The Mouth of Darkness, East Village is a town that's tall on rules and short on fun: no dancing, drinking, rock 'n' roll, recreational sex, swimming, make-up, jewellery, playing pool, going to cities, or staying up past nine o'clock.

As the novel begins, Nomi struggles to cope with the back-to-back departures three years earlier of Tash, her beautiful and mouthy sister, and Trudie, her warm and spirited mother. She lives with her father, Ray, a sweet yet hapless schoolteacher whose love is unconditional but whose parenting skills amount to benign neglect. Father and daughter deal with their losses in very different ways. Ray, a committed elder of the church, seeks to create an artificial sense of order by reorganizing the city dump late at night. Nomi, on the other hand, favours chaos as she tries to blunt her pain through "drugs and imagination." Together they live in a limbo of unanswered questions.

Nomi's first-person narrative shifts effortlessly between the present and the past. Within the present, Nomi goes through the motions of finishing high school while flagrantly rebelling against Mennonite tradition. She hangs out on Suicide Hill, hooks up with a boy named Travis, goes on the Pill, wanders around town, skips class, and cranks Led Zeppelin. But the past is never far from her mind as she remembers happy times with her mother and sister - as well as the painful events that led them to flee town. Throughout, in a voice both defiant and vulnerable, she offers hilarious and heartbreaking reflections on life, death, family, faith and love.

Eventually Nomi's grief - and a growing sense of hypocrisy - cause her to spiral ever downward to a climax that seems at once startling and inevitable. But even when one more loss is heaped on her piles of losses, Nomi maintains hope and finds the imagination and willingness to envision what lies beyond.

Few novels in recent years have generated as much excitement as A Complicated Kindness. Winner of the Governor General's Award and a Giller Prize Finalist, Miriam Toews's third novel has earned both critical acclaim and a long and steady position on our national best seller lists.

©2017 Vintage Canada; 2005 Miriam Toews

What the critics say

"Poignant.... Bold, tender and intelligent, this is a clear-eyed exploration of belief and belonging, and the irresistible urge to escape both." ( Publishers Weekly)
"...knockout novel. ...There's leave-taking in this book. But there's wholeness, too. It is a joy." (Jennifer Wells, Toronto Star)
"In 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)

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Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

A mellow listen

Love anything by Miriam Toeves and she is a great narrator. This one dragged a little in contrast to my fave of her's, All My Puny Sorrrows, but still a great relaxed listen.

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Loved this book....both times!

I first heard it read on CBC radio, in the afternoons, a chapter at a time, and was intrigued. I come from the same mennonite heritage/culture/religion as she writes about and Miriam's books strike a chord with me. I love hearing the words we grew up with used in the way that only we could really understand, I think. The angst that her characters experience, I myself have lived also, in varying degrees. And look back on with gratefulness for how it crippled me in some ways, and for all it allowed me to learn from. Miriam Toews, I salute and bless you!

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A good read

Coming from a nearby Mennonite community, I enjoyed this book. Toews writes about what she knows and the feeling of entrapment becomes palpable as you listen to this story. I can imagine being in the story myself- not far from some of the real life experiences I’ve seen or heard about. #Audible1

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#Audible1

#Audible1 Spoiler Alert - Heartbreaking. Funny. I became totally invested in Nomi and yet knew that her story was one of sadness and loss. I wanted for everything to be okay but this is not a summer read that will leave you blissful and happy. It’s dark and sad and yet brilliant. Miriam Toews is a wordsmith that will leave you thinking. As a woman who has left organized religion this book left marks on my heart.

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Loved it

An interesting look into life in a Mennonite community. I found myself one minute feeling the despair of main character, and the next minute laughing my head off at the stories of her antics. The delivery of the narrative was perfect. #Audible1