After hearing many positive reviews (Globe Books and CBC Books), i thought that I would give this Canadian author another read. Reading about the challenges growing up in a Mennonite community in A Complicated Kindness was not the most engaging read but with all the positive reviews, i picked up All My Puny Sorrows. This book was not an uplifting choice to ring out 2014. Although it is a fictional story, the author is said to have based much of the materials on her own experience of losing both her father and her beloved sister to suicide. The topic is very serious in a time when mental health is a prime focus in health care.
The story is narrated by Yolanda (Yoli) and shares her experience growing up with her sister Elfrieda (Elf) in a Mennonite town in the Canadian prairie province of Manitoba. Elf is the elder sibling, a talented pianist who struggled with happiness and was striving to end her suffering by ending her life. After dealing with multiple hospitalizations and unsuccessful suicide attempts, Yoli took responsibility to try and keep Elf alive – flying back and forth from Toronto to Manitoba and trying to convince Elf that life was worth living. While she acted as caregiver, Yoli struggled with her own life, leaving two teenage children at home, dealing with her divorce and sleeping with a man in each province. It seemed that each family member in the story was dealing with their own challenges.
In the end, Elf was successful in her quest and the family had to learn to deal with her decisions and heal. The book was serious and melancholic but not my best choice to end out the year. It was a powerful and honest account of mental illness and the struggles that some families deal with but it was not inspiring and was not a book that I struggled to put down. My heart goes out to the author who has clearly struggled with her own loss and hope that help is available for others going through similar situations.
This novel was written by Canadian author Miriam Toews. It describes the struggles of Nomi, a defiant teenager, who is struggling with the Mennonite values of the East Village where she lives with her devout father. Both her older sister and her mother had separately left the stifling community and Nomi is dealing with this loss while fighting against the Mennonite ways.
Her father is kind and a bit absent allowing Nomi the freedom to roam and get into trouble including drug use, sex and, in the end, arson. Nomi remains devoted to her dad and committed to stay with him despite his ties to the church. This novel described religious fanaticism and her feeling of hopelessness knowing that she had few options and was resigned to work in the chicken plant once she graduated from high school.
This book won the CBC’s Canada Reads (2006) and the author was said to have drawn on her personal experiences growing up Mennonite.
This book was recommended by a fellow swim parent and was a fantastic read! The narrator, a successful orthodontist, tells the tale of a Scottish family, linked by history, blood and the Cape Breton landscape while reminiscing with his older brother, Calum who he visits and has lived a life of hardship and struggle. The love and support for his brother is obvious and he loves his brother unconditionally. Calum was named after the clan’s original patriarch, Calum Ruadh, who immigrated with his 12 children to Cape Breton, losing his second wife on the journey. The family history is told through stories interspersed with Gaelic songs and language and weaves the present and past to describe hardship, loss, success and resilience of the descendants of Calum Ruadh.
The author died in April of 2014 following a stroke and this book was regarded as one of the Atlantic’s greatest books. It apparently took the author 10 years to finish writing it and this will be a book that I will reread to appreciate the richness and description of the story.
“All of us are better when we are loved.” (Alistair MacLeod)
After enjoying Three Day Road, I thought that I would read Joseph Boyden’s, The Orenda. This novel became the winner of the 2014 Canada Reads contest on CBC radio. This novel did not disappoint. It told the stories of Bird (Huron warrior), Snow Falls (an Iroquois girl captured and treated as Bird’s daughter) and Christophe (a Jesuit priest) sent to share his God with the Native people. The story shares the brutal violence and torture between the Iroquois and Huron, the decimation by the plague and the challenges of living during this time period of fighting between the French and the English. The Chapters website describes it as “a story of blood and hope, suspicion and trust, hatred and love. A saga nearly four hundred years old, it is at its roots timeless and eternal.” This is another story that all Canadian’s should read!
The Three Day Road, written by Canadian author Joseph Boyden, was one of the best books that I have read in a long time! It describes an Aunt’s journey to pick up, and bring her nephew home, following his return from fighting in No Man’s Land during WWI. During the canoe trip, the aunt and the soldier share their stories mixing tales of the Aunt’s life as a Native in Canada with the soldier’s stories of fighting in the trenches. The novel deals with themes of residential schools, attempts to assimilate and addiction. As the Aunt paddles, the soldier finishes the last of his morphine and they finish their stories. This story tells a sad time of Canadian and world history. It is a book that all Canadians should read!