Format: Trade Paperback
Dimensions: 256 pages, 3.13 × 2.04 × 0.28 in
Published: May 1, 2007
Publisher: Knopf Canada
The following ISBNs are associated with this title:
ISBN - 10: 0676978568
ISBN - 13: 9780676978568
Read from the Book
One I live with my father, Ray Nickel, in that low brick bungalow out on highway number twelve. Blue shutters, brown door, one shattered window. Nothing great. The furniture keeps disappearing, though. That keeps things interesting. Half of our family, the better-looking half, is missing. Ray and I get up in the morning and move through our various activities until it’s time to go to bed. Every single night around ten o’clock Ray tells me that he’s hitting the hay. Along the way to his bedroom he’ll stop in the front hallway and place notes on top of his shoes to remind him of the things he has to do the next day. We enjoy staring at the Northern Lights together. I told him, verbatim, what Mr. Quiring told us in class. About how those lights work. He thought Mr. Quiring had some interesting points. He’s always been mildly interested in Mr. Quiring’s opinions, probably because he’s also a teacher. I have assignments to complete. That’s the word, complete . I’ve got a problem with endings. Mr. Quiring has told me that essays and stories generally come, organically, to a preordained ending that is quite out of the writer’s control. He says we will know it when it happens, the ending. I don’t know about that. I feel that there are so many to choose from. I’m already anticipating failure. That much I’ve learned to do. But then what the hell will it matter to me while I’m snapping tiny necks and chu
From the Publisher
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
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
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 bestseller lists. In the Globe and
Mail, author Bill Richardson writes the following: "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
This town is so severe. And silent. It makes me crazy, the
silence. I wonder if a person can die from it. The town office
building has a giant filing cabinet full of death certificates that
say choked to death on his own anger or suffocated from unexpressed
feelings of unhappiness. Silentium. People here just can't wait to
die, it seems. It's the main event. The only reason we're not all
snuffed at birth is because that would reduce our suffering by a
lifetime. My guidance counsellor has suggested to me that I change
my attitude about this place and learn to love it. But I do, I told
her. Oh, that's rich, she said. That's rich. . .
We're Mennonites. After Dukhobors who show up naked in court we are
the most embarrassing sub-sect of people to belong to if you're a
teenager. Five hundred years ago in Europe a man named Menno Simons
set off to do his own peculiar religious thing and he and his
followers were beaten up and killed or forced to conform all over
Holland, Poland, and Russia until they, at least some of them,
finally landed right here where I sit. Imagine the least
well-adjusted kid in your school starting a breakaway clique of
people whose manifesto includes a ban on the media, dancing,
smoking , temperate climates, movies, drinking, rock'n'roll, having
sex for fun, swimming, makeup, jewellery, playing pool, going to
cities, or staying up past nine o'clock. That was Menno all over.
Thanks a lot, Menno.
-from A Complicated Kindness
From the Hardcover edition.
About the Author
Miriam Toews (pronounced tâves) was born in 1964 in the small Mennonite town of Steinbach, Manitoba. She left Steinbach at 18, living in Montreal and London and touring Europe before coming back to Manitoba, where she earned her B.A. in film studies at the University of Manitoba. Later she packed up with her children and partner and moved to Halifax to attend the University of King’s College, where she received her bachelor’s degree in journalism. Upon returning to Winnipeg with her family in 1991, she freelanced at the CBC, making radio documentaries. When her youngest daughter started nursery school, Toews decided it was time to try writing a novel. Miriam Toews’s first novel, Summer of My Amazing Luck , was published in 1996; it was nominated for the Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour and won the John Hirsch Award. Published two years later, her second novel, A Boy of Good Breeding , won the McNally Robinson Book of the Year Award. She is also the author of Swing Low: A Life , a memoir of her father who committed suicide in 1998 after a lifelong struggle with manic depression. Swing Low won both the McNally Robinson Book of the Year Award and the Alexander Kennedy Isbister Award for Non-Fiction. Toews has written for the CBC, This American Life (on National Public Radio), Saturday Night , Geist , Canadian Geographic , Open Letters and The New York Times Magazine , and has won the National Magazine Award Gold Medal for Humour. Toews’s thi
"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.” — Globe and Mail Books section cover “ 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 ̵
1. Nomi frequently interrupts her narrative to comment on word
choice - both her own and that of others. Unreal, party,
groovy, two-wheeler, keel, blouse and
future are a few examples. What does language represent to
Nomi? In what way is her fascination with words informed by her
2. Nomi describes herself and Ray as "two mental patients just
getting through another day." The novel contains many other
references to insanity. What elements of a rigidly interpreted
Mennonite religion would you say are not conducive to robust mental
3. Mr. Quiring appears on the first page of the book then plays
a seemingly minor role until the last chapter. How would you
describe his presence in the novel - both in terms of the story
itself and how the story is told? What does Nomi mean when she
says: "You provided my family with an ending"?
4. Nomi has been described as a "latter-day Holden Caulfield."
What aspects of A Complicated Kindness
make it a coming-of-age story that resonates with readers
regardless of their ethnic or religious backgrounds?
5. Of the bloodstain on her wall, Nomi writes: "…every time I
looked at it I was reminded that I was, at that very moment,
not bleeding from my face. And those are powerful words of
hope, really." What role does hope play in the novel? How does each
member of the Nickel family experience hope?
6. What is the significance of the book's title? Would you
describe the departures of Trudi and Ray as acts of "a complicated
kindness"? What other scenes reveal this quality at play?
7. How would you characterize Nomi's style of humour? What
function does it serve for her? What passages stand out for you as
8. Discuss the symbolic significance of the following images:
the ugly black dresses "dancing wildly in the wind;" Trudie's
passport in the drawer; the graffiti on passing trains.
9. What is Nomi's vision of an ideal family? How do her views
change over the course of the book?
10. It seems that the people of East Village are forced to live
a contradiction: the tangible world is false; the hereafter is
real. How does Nomi ultimately come to terms with this
contradiction? Consider, for instance, her "new religion" as she
describes it in Chapter 24.