Wednesday 17 April 2024
  • :
  • :

OC Book Blog: “All My Puny Sorrows” by Miriam Toews

This is a novel about two sisters. One spontaneous, intentional, wanting, the other a successful, near-progeny pianist, with a good husband and seemingly good life, and dramatic mood swings.

By Randy Kraft


Miriam Toews’ novel “All My Puny Sorrows” is the story of sisters trying to save each other.

Hard to read this narrative, also uplifting, oddly. Often humorous. The writer presents us with the nature of living. The power of familial love and also friendship. The necessary recognition and acceptance of one’s limitations, or not, and, the sheer incredible compassion for the hardest of life’s journeys, a journey headed to a premature end.

Yes, this is a novel about a family coalescing behind one member’s determination to die.

What makes the story particularly unique and interesting is that the sisters belong to a Mennonite family – not too many novels in this setting. Even the names are unusual: Elfrieda (Elf) and Yolandi (Yoli). And in this otherwise traditional conservative family, an irreverent mom has a profound sensitivity to what’s right for her daughters (it helps to be a therapist).

The dialogue, and some of the conversations between sisters are priceless. Consider this adolescent response to what makes playing the piano so great.

She told me that the most important thing was to establish the tenderness right off the bat, or at least close to the top of the piece, just a hint of it, a whisper, but a deep whisper because the tension will mount, the excitement and the drama will build…  and when the action rises the audience might remember the earlier moment of tenderness, and remembering will make them long to return to infancy, to safety, to pure love, then you might move away from that, put the violence and agony of life into every note, building, building still, until there is an important decision to make: return to tenderness, even briefly, glancingly, or continue with the truth, the violence, the pain, the tragedy to the very end.

I recommend highly, especially for book groups – will make for lively deliberation.

Available now in paperback or for your e-reader. Happy reading.

Randy Kraft is a retired journalist, an active book reviewer and fiction writer. She also occasionally teaches and coaches aspiring novelists, and has been the OC Book Blogger on this site since its inception. Born and bred in New York City, Randy resides in Dana Point. Her first novel Colors of the Wheel published in 2014 and her second, Signs of Life, in 2016. In recent years, she has published several short stories in literary magazines and her first collection, Rational Women, was released in 2020. (Maple57Press)

Leave a Reply