All My Puny Sorrows
You won’t forget Elf and Yoli, two smart and loving sisters. Elfrieda, a world-renowned pianist, glamorous, wealthy, happily married: she wants to die. Yolandi, divorced, broke, sleeping with the wrong men as she tries to find true love: she desperately wants to keep her older sister alive. Yoli is a beguiling mess, wickedly funny even as she stumbles through life struggling to keep her teenage kids and mother happy, her exes from hating her, her sister from killing herself and her own heart from breaking.
But Elf’s latest suicide attempt is a shock: she is three weeks away from the opening of her highly anticipated international tour. Her long-time agent has been calling and neither Yoli nor Elf’s loving husband knows what to tell him. Can she be nursed back to “health” in time? Does it matter? As the situation becomes ever more complicated, Yoli faces the most terrifying decision of her life.
All My Puny Sorrows, at once tender and unquiet, offers a profound reflection on the limits of love, and the sometimes unimaginable challenges we experience when childhood becomes a new country of adult commitments and responsibilities. Miriam Toews gives us a startling demonstration of how to carry on with hope and love and the business of living even when grief loads the heart.
NOMINATING LIBRARY COMMENTS
Utilizing her own tragic family history, Miriam Toews interweaves despair and wit to tell the compelling story of sisters Elf and Yoli Von Riesen. In the wake of Elf’s most recent suicide attempt, Yoli is faced with the dilemma of whether to help her sister die or push her to continue a pain-filled existence. In Toews’ hands this book goes far beyond simply being bleak, rejoicing in love, music, and literature as the women engage in their aching conflict over the purpose of life.
In All My Puny Sorrows, Miriam Toews fearlessly approaches the intersection of love and suicide with humour and deep compassion. Through flashbacks to their Mennonite childhood and the excruciating events of the present, Toews has created two characters – sisters Elf and Yoli – whose capacity for both joy and despair resonate with the reader long after the story is told.
Miriam Toews writes in both a heart-wrenchingly sad, and laugh out loud manner on a taboo subject, suicide. She captures the sisterly love and attachment, and all the peripheral relationships with layers and striations that few others could ever manage. Emotion is wrapped into every sentence, and our jury is unanimous that this be on our list of 2015 nominees.
Growing up in a family of free-spirited outliers in a small conservative Mennonite town, sisters Elfrieda and Yolandi are each other’s closest companions and supports, despite their differences. Elf is beautiful, a gifted pianist and a treasured wife, but suffers from a lifelong depression that has manifested itself in multiplesuicide attempts. Yoli, gifted only with a wry sense of humour and an irrepressible sense of hope, lives a transient and chaotic life with her two children. Yoli’s main job in life is to keep Elf alive. Full of dark humour, this tender, bittersweet novel is an investigation into love, the terrible pain of intractable depression and existential despair that even love cannot heal, the devastation of loss, and the strength and resolve required of those who must survive and carry on.