Irma Voth

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Irma Voth

by Miriam Toews

Knopf Canada | April 5, 2011 | Hardcover

Irma Voth is rated 3.2 out of 5 by 5.

From the award-winning author of A Complicated Kindness comes a heart-wrenching yet wryly funny story about setting out on the road to self-discovery, and finding the strength to survive in the face of immeasurable loss.
 
Nineteen-year-old Irma Voth lives in a Mennonite community in northern Mexico, surrounded by desert and both physically and culturally isolated from the surrounding towns and cities. It’s been six years since her family up and left Canada to escape the prying eyes of the government and preserve their religious freedom, but Irma still misses the minor freedoms she had in their small town. She even misses the cold. This new life has not been an easy one, and Irma finds herself deserted by her husband of one year, who has left to pursue a life of drug-running, instead of working her family’s farm. The most devastating blow for Irma is that he didn’t take her with him, take her away, so now she’s left to live under her father’s domineering rule alone.
 
Things change for Irma when a film crew moves into the empty house next door. They’ve come to make a movie about the Mennonite community, and have made a deal with Irma’s father to stay on their land. The director enlists Irma to work for them as a translator, as she can speak not only Spanish and English but Plattdeutsch, or Low German, the language of her people. At first bemused by the ragged and absurd crewmembers, Irma comes to embrace the passion and creative freedom of their world – but in doing so brings on the wrath of her father, who is determined to keep her from it at all costs. When Irma’s thirteen-year-old sister Aggie begins to come by and spend time with the crew, their father is sent over the edge with rage, and Irma is forced to make a hard decision to save not only herself, but her younger sister, and to break the dark chain of violence holding her family.
 
The girls flee to the city, not knowing where they’ll find food or shelter, let alone build a life, but knowing for the first time that they are free to make that choice. And even as they begin to understand the truth of the tragedy that has their family in its grip, Irma and Aggie use their love as a source of strength to help each other move on from their past lives and work toward a future that can truly become anything they want it to be.

Format: Hardcover

Dimensions: 272 pages, 8.29 × 5.49 × 0.92 in

Published: April 5, 2011

Publisher: Knopf Canada

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0307400689

ISBN - 13: 9780307400680

Found in: Fiction and Literature

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Reviews

Rated 5 out of 5 by from Beautiful, moving, one of the best books I've read! This is my first Miriam Toews book and I think I'm going to read everything she's written. She has a witty, elegant way of writing that just puts my heart in my throat. I can't say enough about this book. Irma and her sister Aggie are such beautiful characters, so full of life and curiosity, so tough. When I finished the book I found myself missing their company, but the ending is profound and uplifting. Really good! Huge recommend.
Date published: 2012-09-02
Rated 1 out of 5 by from First time Miriam Toews reader If Toews other books are like this one, I will avoid them like the plague. Other reviewers loved this book. I had to read it for my book club and each page was painful for me to read. I didn't care for the writing, the characters, the story, or anything else about this book. Having said that, I am usually the odd person out in my book club...I don't usually see eye to eye with the others about the selections and the other reviews support this. But, I can't recommend it to anyone.
Date published: 2011-10-02
Rated 2 out of 5 by from A Complicated Irma Voth If you liked 'A Complicated Kindness' then 'Irma Voth' is a great choice. However I didn't like 'A Complicated Kindness' or 'Irma Voth'. Like 'A Complicated Kindness', 'Irma Voth' is set in an atmosphere of ambivalence. The characters take no interest in furthering the plot but simply allow things to happen to them with little genuine reaction. Once again set in a Mennonite society, 'Irma Voth''s religious and societal tone is set by Irma's father - the only character who embraces the mennonite lifestyle - everything other character appears to be able to take it or leave it. Not to say that Miriam Toews is not an excellent author, her style is impeccable and she is a prime example of a modern Canadian author, however - read 'The Flying Troutman' instead.
Date published: 2011-06-20
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Mennonites in Mexico Reason for Reading: I adored "The Flying Troutmans" and wanted to try another book by the author. Irma Voth is about a family who are Mennonites but ultimately that is not a big issue in the story; they could really be any very rural, backwoods type of people as the Voths are pretty much loners and there is not a lot of Mennonite community activities or lifestyle portrayed in the book. The Voths are originally from Canada but one day they picked up and moved to a Mennonite Community in Mexico. They live remotely, on land where the father owns three houses. We meet Irma as her husband is leaving her. Irma has been shunned by her father because she eloped and married a Mexican. They live in one of his houses and work his land for free but he does not speak with them. Irma's husband comes back every now and then as he is involved in the drug trade and he keeps his "goods" in the barn. A famous Mexican director comes to the area and rents the third house on the property for his crew as he makes a movie about Mennonites. The father hates everything these people stand for but his youngest daughter becomes curious and sneaks away to watch them. Irma is offered a job as translator since she speaks German, Mexican and English, which she excepts, since she has no income and no husband now. The plan is to eventually leave the stranglehold of her father. There is no denying that Toews is a beautiful writer who has a lyric way with words and can add a touch of wit to scenes where it is least expected. The story is a slow moving one, not one to be rushed, even though I did read it within the time frame of a day. I find it hard to review this book because I'm not ecstatic about the story but neither did I dislike it. I never really connected with the characters. I found the story interesting though perhaps a bit "high-brow" at times, taking itself too seriously. But I never once stopped enjoying the story though it took a long time to go anywhere. I preferred the second half of the book over the first. In the second half, Irma gets away from her father and moves to Mexico City where she learns a whole new way of live. And yet, through it all, she still yearns for the corn fields back home. Irma herself is a character with many crosses to bear. She has the two men in her life, her father and husband, who have treated her unwell and yet she in turn has great guilt over something she has done to each of them in turn. Irma actually carries a lot of guilt for things she blames herself for causing and people she has hurt, starting with own soul. Irma learns who she is on this journey. Learns if it is possible to forgive herself and if it is possible for her to forgive the others as well. Certainly, a well-written, good read if not necessarily a gripping read. I'm still interested in reading the author's other books as I enjoy her writing style.
Date published: 2011-05-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from simply beautiful Miriam Toews adds another cornerstone to her career with Irma Voth. It's simply beautiful in its human brushstrokes. It disturbs when it should disturb. Is quiet in its reflections. Offers lines so beautiful I kept folding page corners down so I could quote them later on Facebook. It's might be impossible to choose a favourite book by Miriam Toews. Together with Irma Voth is A Complicated Kindness and Swing Low. All three are my favourite together. Including Sandra Birdsell's The Russlander and Marina Endicott's Good to a Fault, these are the most memorable and impactful books on my shelf.
Date published: 2011-05-05

– More About This Product –

Irma Voth

by Miriam Toews

Format: Hardcover

Dimensions: 272 pages, 8.29 × 5.49 × 0.92 in

Published: April 5, 2011

Publisher: Knopf Canada

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0307400689

ISBN - 13: 9780307400680

Read from the Book

Jorge said he wasn’t coming back until I learned how to be a better wife. He said it’s okay to touch him with my arm or my leg or my foot, if it’s clean, when we’re sleeping but not to smother him like a second skin. I asked him how could that be, I hardly saw him any more and he said that’s a good thing for you. He said people always lie about their reasons for leaving and what difference does it make? I blocked the doorway so he wouldn’t leave and I begged him not to go. He put his hands on my shoulders and then he rubbed my arms like he was trying to warm me up and I put my hands on his waist.   I asked him how I was supposed to develop the skills to be a wife if I didn’t have a husband to practise with and he said that was the type of question that contributed to my loneliness. I asked him why he was trying to blindside me with answers that attempted only to categorize my questions and I asked him why he was acting so strange lately and where his problem with the way I slept with my leg over his leg had come from and why he kept going away and why he was trying so hard to be a tough guy instead of just Jorge and then he pulled me close to him and he asked me to please stop talking, to stop shivering, to stop blocking the door, to stop crying and to stop loving him.   I asked him how I was supposed to do that and he said no, Irma, we’re not kids anymore, don’t say anything else. I wanted to ask him what loving
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From the Publisher

From the award-winning author of A Complicated Kindness comes a heart-wrenching yet wryly funny story about setting out on the road to self-discovery, and finding the strength to survive in the face of immeasurable loss.
 
Nineteen-year-old Irma Voth lives in a Mennonite community in northern Mexico, surrounded by desert and both physically and culturally isolated from the surrounding towns and cities. It’s been six years since her family up and left Canada to escape the prying eyes of the government and preserve their religious freedom, but Irma still misses the minor freedoms she had in their small town. She even misses the cold. This new life has not been an easy one, and Irma finds herself deserted by her husband of one year, who has left to pursue a life of drug-running, instead of working her family’s farm. The most devastating blow for Irma is that he didn’t take her with him, take her away, so now she’s left to live under her father’s domineering rule alone.
 
Things change for Irma when a film crew moves into the empty house next door. They’ve come to make a movie about the Mennonite community, and have made a deal with Irma’s father to stay on their land. The director enlists Irma to work for them as a translator, as she can speak not only Spanish and English but Plattdeutsch, or Low German, the language of her people. At first bemused by the ragged and absurd crewmembers, Irma comes to embrace the passion and creative freedom of their world – but in doing so brings on the wrath of her father, who is determined to keep her from it at all costs. When Irma’s thirteen-year-old sister Aggie begins to come by and spend time with the crew, their father is sent over the edge with rage, and Irma is forced to make a hard decision to save not only herself, but her younger sister, and to break the dark chain of violence holding her family.
 
The girls flee to the city, not knowing where they’ll find food or shelter, let alone build a life, but knowing for the first time that they are free to make that choice. And even as they begin to understand the truth of the tragedy that has their family in its grip, Irma and Aggie use their love as a source of strength to help each other move on from their past lives and work toward a future that can truly become anything they want it to be.

About the Author

MIRIAM TOEWS is the author of five previous novels: Summer of My Amazing Luck; A Boy of Good Breeding; A Complicated Kindness (winner of the 2004 Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction), The Flying Troutmans (winner of the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize) and Irma Voth, and one work of non-fiction, Swing Low: A Life. She lives in Toronto.

Editorial Reviews

“Toews . . . is clearly an artistic powerhouse. . . .  In this compelling and beautiful novel, Toews’s quirky and authentic voice shows increasing range and maturity. She is well on her way to fulfilling her promise as an important and serious writer.”
—The Gazette

“There is something quite mesmerizing about Toews’s prose. It’s to do with the rhythm of her language, with the seeming effortlessness of it and, when combined with her quick, offhand wit, it can enliven even the darkest of moments.”
— Toronto Star
 
“Toews’s ability to generate comedy and heartache at the same time just soars.”
— Maclean’s
 
“Irma Voth is wryly funny and perceptive.”
— National Post
 
“It is beautiful, strange, and fascinating, and readers wise enough to trust in the author’s sure hand will be rewarded with a novel that takes them someplace altogether unexpected.”
— Kerry Clare, Quill & Quire
 
“A beautiful, heartbreaking novel. . . . Calls to mind Ann-Marie MacDonald’s 1996 epic, Fall On Your Knees.”
— Winnipeg Free Press
 
“A stunning culture clash between the Mennonite and art communities. . . . The internal conflict over when to reveal hard information, in life or in art, is one of Toews’s key themes. A sequence about how it feels to tell the truth is a knockout.”
— NOW (Toronto) NNNN

Bookclub Guide

1. What were your first impressions of Irma, at the opening of the novel? Did they change as the book progressed and you got to know her character?

2. Talk about what Mennonite life is like for Irma and her brothers and sisters, growing up under their father’s strict religious rule, in their isolated community. What is life like for Irma’s mother?

3. Late in the book, Irma allows herself to remember what really happened to her older sister Katie, and tells Aggie the horrible truth. Do you think Irma will be able to leave her feelings of guilt behind?

4. Wilson tells Irma that art has the power to save us. Irma’s father tells her that art is a lie. Discuss the role of art in the novel, and how it relates to life. Why does Aggie react so strongly to the Diego Rivera mural in the National Palace?

5. Diego gives Irma a blank journal so she can keep notes during the shoot, so she can sort out what’s going on and keep track of her questions, but she ends up using it for so much more. What does the notebook become for Irma?

6. Discuss Jorge and Irma’s relationship. Why did Jorge leave Irma? Do you think they were ever happy, living on the farm? Does Irma really love Jorge?

7. At the end of the novel, Irma returns home to visit her parents and brothers. What do you think their reaction will be? Do you think her father is capable of forgiveness?

8. In the words of Wilson, “Our dreams are a thin curtain between survival and extinction.” What does that mean to him, and for anyone? Discuss the importance of dreams in the novel, including Irma’s dreams of – or hopes for – the future.

9. What does meeting the film crew mean for Irma? Discuss Irma’s relationships with Marijke, Diego and Wilson, and why each of them is important to her.

10. Talk about the cab ride the girls take to the beach in Acapulco in between their flights, and the relationship they form with their driver, Gustavo.

11. How does meeting Noehmi and the other student protesters affect Aggie and Irma?

12. At the end of the book, Irma changes the words of the heading in her notebook from Diego’s “You have to be prepared to die” to “You have to be prepared to live.” And then plays around with it more, too. What does this shift in perspective mean for Irma? Could this idea apply to anyone who has lived through loss?

13. What does the future hold for Irma and her two sisters?

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