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A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews
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A Complicated Kindness

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A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews
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Nov 21, 2017 | ISBN 9780735274976 | 404 Minutes

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“Miriam Toews, the award winning Canadian author, embodies Nomi’s voice with such an authentic and manic charm that it’s hard not to fall in love with her… A Complicated Kindness captures the struggles of a family and its individuals in a fresh, wondrous style. Despite this complexity of family tensions, much of A Complicated Kindness is pleasantly plotless. The looseness of Nomi’s worldview, the sometimes blurry nonfocus of it, the unexpected sideways humor, make this book the beautiful and bitter little masterpiece it is.”
The Believer

“Poignant….Bold, tender and intelligent, this is a clear-eyed exploration of belief and belonging, and the irresistible urge to escape both.”
Publishers Weekly

“Wise, edgy, unforgettable, the heroine of Miriam Toews’s knockout novel is Canada’s next classic.”
The Globe and Mail Books section

A Complicated Kindness is just that: funny and strange, spellbinding and heartbreaking, this novel is a complicated kindness from a terrifically talented writer.”
—Gail Anderson-Dargatz

“Why the compulsion to laugh so often and so heartily when reading A Complicated Kindness? That’s the book’s mystery and its miracle. Has any of our novelists ever married, so brilliantly, the funny — and I mean posture-damaging, shoulder-heaving, threaten-the-grip-of-gravity-on-recently-ingested-food brand of funny — and the desperately sad — that would be the three-ply-tissue, insufficient-to-the-day, who-knew-I-had-this-much-snot-in-me brand of sad? I don’t think so.”
The Globe and Mail

“There is so much that’s accomplished and fine. The momentum of the narrative, the quality of the storytelling, the startling images, the brilliant rendering of a time and place, the observant, cataloguing eye of the writer, her great grace. But if I had to name Miriam Toews’s crowning achievement, it would be the creation of Nomi Nickel, who deserves to take her place beside Daisy Goodwill Flett, Pi Patel and Hagar Shipley as a brilliantly realized character for whom the reader comes to care, okay, comes to love.”
Bill Richardson Globe and Mail

“Truly wonderful…. A Complicated Kindness is…one of the year’s exuberant reads. Toews recreates the stultifying world of an exasperated Mennonite teenager in a small town where nothing happens with mesmerizing authenticity. . . . Toews seduces the reader with her tenderness, astute observation and piquant humour. But then she turns the laughs she’s engendered in the reader like a knife.”
Toronto Star

“Right away we’re hooked on our narrator’s [Nomi’s] mournful smarts….A Complicated Kindness is affecting, impeccably written, and has real authority, but most of all it is immediate. You — as they say — are there….like waking up in a crazy Bible camp, or witnessing an adolescent tour guide tear off her uniform and make a break for the highway.”
Quill & Quire

“A knockout novel.…There’s leave-taking in this book. But there’s wholeness, too. It is a joy.”
—Jennifer Wells, Toronto Star

“Now comes A Complicated Kindness, in which Toews’ deft hand combines aspects of her previous subjects — love, small-town politics, rigid religious parameters, depression, — and comes up with something completely new.”
—Leslie Beaton Hedley, Calgary Herald

A Complicated Kindness struck me like a blow to the solar plexus. Toews, somewhat like Mordecai Richler, makes you feel the pain of her protagonist while elucidating the predicament of her people, always mixing a large dose of empathy with her iconoclastic sense of the ridiculous. When she’s funny, she’s wickedly so. But the book has a dark, disturbing side to it that grows stronger as the story progresses.”
—Pat Donnelly, The Gazette (Montreal)

“In novel full of original characters…Toews has created a feisty but appealing young heroine…. As an indictument 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

“Toew’s offers up a wickedly funny new voice…. Nomi is wickedly funny, irreverent, intelligent and compassionate. Toews masteres the character’s voice and never allows her own to intrude.”
Fast Forward Weekly (Calgary)

A Complicated Kindness works its way up to a powerful ending through the accumulation of anecdote and detail…. Toew’s sense of the absurd works brilliantly to expose the hypocrisy of fundamentalist kindness, a love in reality all too conditional…. A Complicated Kindness, at its core, is a depiction of the battle between hope and despair … yet along the way we are treated to an unforgettable summer with a heroine who loses everything but it s ultimately able to hold on to life, to a sense of herself, and to maintain her courage and optimism In the face of a world without any guaranteed happy endings.”
Georgia Straight

A Complicated Kindness…looks like a breakthrough…. It is narrated by a deastating ly funny and heartbreakingly bewildered young woman named Nomi.”
The Bookseller (

“This book is as good as anything out there at the moment. But don’t take my word for it, take the word of your fellow citizens: It’s hit numerous Canadian bestseller lists…. [T]his is a well-crafted, witty, sardonic and ultimately sad look inside the world of Mennonites as they exist in East Village, Manitoba.”
Ottawa Citizen

From time to time…we are reminded of what we once saw in this cockamamie enterprise. Along comes book that stands out from the crowd. A Complicated Kindness is just such a book…. Miriam Toews of Winnipeg has delivered a new novel that has us all buzzing…. Ray is a wonderful character….Miriam Toews tells her sometimes harrowing, often very funny story with total confidence. You’ll car about Nomi and Ray and you won’t want it to end. I promise.”
University of Toronto Bookstore Review

“The narrative voice is so strong, it could carry the last eventful, least weird adolescence in the world and still be as transfixing…. Toew’s novel is a wonderfully acute, moving, warm, sceptical, frustrated portrait of fundamentalist religion…. The book is fascinating, and resonant, and inexorable…”
Saturday’s Guardian (UK)

A Complicated Kindness is a delight from beginning to end.  The humour might be of the blackest sort (‘People here just can’t wait to die, it seems.  It’s the main event.’), but the cumulative effect is liberating and defiantly joyful.”
Daily Mail

“In Miriam Toews’ agreeably off-kilter novel, A Complicated Kindness, the sanguineous and sanguine are combined in Nomi Nickel.” 

“One of my favourite books so far this year is A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews. … (A) sweet, sad, hilarious novel … The voice Miriam Toews has created for Nomi is utterly unique and absolutely convincing, and her adolescence in ‘the most embarrassing sub-sect of people to belong to if you’re a teenager’ is at times painfully funny, and at others just painful.”
—Suzie Doore, Booksellers Choice, The Bookseller

“Nomi is a wonderful narrator … Original and poignant, with exquisite tone.”
—Juliet Fleming, Booksellers Choice, The Bookseller

“Canadian writer’s UK debut, the story of a teenage girl growing up in Manitoba in an obscure religious sect, who narrates her story in a lovely voice, fresh and funny.”
—Star Ratings, The Bookseller

“It is a complicated kindness indeed that gives us this book. Miriam Toews has written a novel shot through with aching sadness, the spectre of loss, and unexpected humor. You want to reach inside and save 16-year-old Nomi Nickel, send her the money for a plane ticket to New York, get her a cab to CBGB’s on the Bowery and somehow introduce her to Lou Reed. It might seem an odd metaphor to use about someone who has authored such a vivid, anguished indictment of religious fundamentalism, but Miriam Toews writes like an angel.”
—David Rakoff, author of Fraud

“The narrator of this novel, Nomi Nickel, is wonderful. She scrapes away the appearances in her small town and offers what she finds in a voice that is wry, vulnerable, sacrilegious and, best of all, devastatingly funny. This is Miriam Toews at her best.”
—David Bergen, author of The Case of Lena S.

Author Q&A

Can you tell us how you became a writer?
I have always wanted to be a writer, even as a kid, but it seemed like an impossible thing to do. After I graduated from journalism school I made a few radio documentaries and I realized that one of the stories would actually make a better novel, and that’s where it started.

What inspired you to write this particular book? Is there a story about the writing of this novel that begs to be told?
I was feeling kind of ambivalent about the whole writing/publishing thing when I started and thought maybe I’d just make photocopies of the finished book and staple it together and give it to my friends and family as Christmas gifts or something like that. I had also toyed with the idea of stuffing pages of it into obscure places like culverts and high branches of trees.

What is it that you’re exploring in this book?
How we manage to somehow live in that place where loss and faith intersect. And the idea of leaving, of somehow disappearing, as an act of love. Or of it being perceived that way by those left behind, in order to continue. Sometimes I think that the people we’ve lost, the people who are missing, become god-like in our imaginations, and that’s how religious faith begins. It’s a type of transference. It’s too hard to accept we’re all alone on this earth and having to deal with the random "disappearance" of people we love, because where does that end? But I’m just rambling. This answer should probably be ignored, or at least taken with a grain of salt.

Who is your favourite character in this book, and why?
Ray, because he loves Nomi unconditionally, and in spite of losing so much and having to live within a conundrum, behaves with dignity and grace. He has deep religious convictions, but also manages to maintain his humanity.

Are there any tips you would give a book club to better navigate their discussion of your book?
The Wolf Blass Yellow Label. I think it’s a cabernet. And it’s pretty reasonably priced.

Do you have a favourite story to tell about being interviewed about your book?
I really enjoyed being interviewed by a class of grade ones when I was the writer in residence at the Winnipeg Public Library. Questions like: Do you like dragons? Are you a man or a woman? Do you live in the library? Do you cry?

What question are you never asked in interviews but wish you were?
I’m always so preoccupied with not sounding like a total idiot in interviews that when they’re over I’m just relieved and spent and have no energy to think of even MORE questions.

Has a review or profile ever changed your perspective on your work?
No, not in the long run.

Which authors have been most influential to your own writing?
Well, there are so many writers I admire, but if you’re talking about the writers who first opened my eyes to the possibilities of literature, they’d be the ones I read in high school: Dostoyevsky, Nabokov, Salinger, Orwell, Maugham, Kerouac, Henry Miller, Vonnegut, Philip Roth, Charles Bukowski. I wish I could think of some women writers I read at the time, but unfortunately I can’t. Maybe that was why I thought I could never become one myself. That’s horrible. I was probably under the really stupid, destructive impression that honest, intelligent writing was somehow un-feminine.

If you weren’t writing, what would you want to be doing for a living? What are some of your other passions in life?
I love to drive. Maybe I could drive a cab. Or I could read out loud to people in hospitals. I also enjoy playing poker.

If you could have written one book in history, what book would that be?
The Da Vinci Code. Just kidding. Honestly, I don’t know.

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