A Complicated Kindness

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A Complicated Kindness

by Miriam Toews

Knopf Canada | May 1, 2007 | Trade Paperback

A Complicated Kindness is rated 3.25 out of 5 by 17.
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 unanswered questions.

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 love.

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 to love.”


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.

Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 256 pages, 7.99 × 5.18 × 0.84 in

Published: May 1, 2007

Publisher: Knopf Canada

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0676978568

ISBN - 13: 9780676978568

Found in: Fiction and Literature
Your heart instantly goes out to 16-year old Nomi Nickel in A Complicated Kindness. She is heartbreakingly sad but also devastatingly funny. In her quest to get out of her stifling Mennonite town you truly want to reach out and help her at every turn.

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Reviews

Rated 2 out of 5 by from Wasn't Interesting There may be some readers who have enjoyed this book, but I was not one of them. I can tell it's a great book but not of my taste as it gave me no interest or motivation to read. Not much of a book worm, but what I can say is if you're Christian, or if you lived in a society where you had to live by rules or be obedient to certain things; you can relate to this novel. The wording is nice, the story is good. Overall I did not enjoy it, but it's a great story.
Date published: 2015-04-08
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Gave up on it twice I tried reading it twice and gave up each time. However, since I had bought (without much thought) i decided to give it one more go so as not to waste money. I seriously do not get what's so great about this book. There was hardly a storyline and absolutely nothing that would want you to continue reading. I fell asleep even when I wasn't tired. What a waste of time.
Date published: 2012-04-29
Rated 1 out of 5 by from DIdn't get the hype.... I had to read this book for a class about adolescents. A lot of people really seemed to enjoy this book, but I found it really hard to get into and finish. This book is about a Mennonite village and focuses on one particular family who live in it. The main character Nomi is the focus of the novel. We view the world through her eyes. Information is slowly revealed as the book continues about what happened to her sister, Natasha, and her mother, Trudie. She lives with her father, Ray, who is a bit of an odd character himself. We see this struggle within Nomi to be herself while at the same time following the ways of her Mennonite village. There is nothing spectacular about this book; rather it has an everyday kind of feel to it. I think you have to think like Nomi to really understand the book and get into it. I could not relate to her character and therefore found it really hard to get anything of substance out of this novel. The ending is not really an ending (which is something that drives me crazy!), which I found really frustrating. On the plus side, it won the Governor General's Award and it is truly Canadian. Give it a try.
Date published: 2011-12-29
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Great Book, a Disappointing Conclusion The main character in this book is hilarious while tragic. Excellent writing for the bulk of the novel, you are really captured by Nomi's sad, lost life. The ending, however, leaves something to be desired - same "but wait, this isn't the end, right?" feeling I had reading The Flying Troutmans, also by Towes.
Date published: 2011-06-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Love Toews' humor! Toews' writing never disappoints, her dry wit, and timing are pitch perfect, her ability to make me laugh in situations or on topics that I wouldn't normally find funny is a testament to just how talented a writer she is! I adore her dysfunctional characters, and Nomi Nickel is no exception! A MUST read!
Date published: 2011-03-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Amazing! Read this book! No, seriously, go...NOW! I loved it! It was hard to understand at first, but it was very enjoyable and Nomi's character is easy to relate to. I was completely immersed in the storyline and plot and couldn't put the book down! Granted, I did have to read this for school, but I enjoyed it nonetheless!
Date published: 2009-12-15
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Disliked I honestly tried reading this book. Actually read up until page 191 (I think). The entire time I had no idea what was going on. I felt like I was back in highschool praying that there was a "Coles Notes/Cliffs Notes" for this book. I ended up returning it. On the back cover there's a review saying that it's funny, but, it's not funny at all. I just didn't get it!
Date published: 2009-11-11
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Watch the grass grow - it will go faster and be more exciting I was given this book by a friend who didn't say too much about it. Now I know why. The description on the jacket sounded intriguing, so I thought why not? I try to read more books by Canadian authors anyway. I found the narrative haphazard and annoying. I know the protaganist is a 16 year old girl who is confused and lost, but after a while, the reader gets lost too. I don't know how many times I asked myself "Where is this going?" At the conclusion, you're thinking, "This is what I was waiting for?" The only saving grace was that it was slightly less than 250 pages, so I didn't waste too much time on it. Why was this a Giller prize nominee?!
Date published: 2009-11-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An amazing novel Nomi is just an average sixteen year old girl living in a small town, the only thing different is she's a mennonite. Her mother and sister both left three years before this novel takes place. Her sister left with her boyfriend and her mom was ex-communicated. Yes, they live in a town that does that. Nomi once was very devoted to her religion, but at sixteen she is questioning it and has become a stoner. Things she she would never do. Throughout the novel, Nomi tries to figure out where her mother and sister could have went upon leaving. She tries to come up with different scenerios on why they left, because she had been kept in the dark all those years ago. This novel is different than any I have read before. I have never read a book where a mennonite girl is narrating. As a side notw, the town I live in is home to many mennonites and it was interesting to read the authors take on their lives. Not a disappointing read at all.
Date published: 2009-06-28
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Awful This is possibly one of the worse books I have ever read considering the hype that was made about it. The characters were flat and not particularly likable. The story went nowhere and just dragged on and on. Highly disappointing.
Date published: 2009-05-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Definitely a difficult one to put down A Complicated Kindness was a story that was written purposely almost to leave you feeling a bit depressed about the state of the main character/narrarator Nomi, a girl living in a mennonite society that shares none of the same beliefs or values with the rest of her mennonite community. She feels extremely trapped and isolated in her own town, and is almost polar opposites with everyone she knows. Her most fulfilling dream would be to go and live in a crowded city like New York City. Nomi's older sister Tash, and her mother Trudie left when she was 13 - they felt the same way as Nomi, thus, leaving Nomi with her father Ray. This novel was written very well, with a unique style, much symbolism incorporated, yet with all the deepness involved, it still has a very witty and funny type of dark humour that is easily recognizable within the novel. A quick read, but not an easy one.
Date published: 2009-03-27
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Interesting Read This book definitely had a unique writing style. Follow the adventures of a troubled Mennonite teenage girl, living in a Mennonite village, who seems to have given up hope on life, but not her belief in God. After being abandoned by half of her family (her mom and her sister), she ridicules her religion, but still believes in heaven and hell and is often anxious over her end result in life.
Date published: 2009-03-27
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Compulsive, but... This novel offers a sideways glimpse into the life of a Canadian Mennonite girl in the 70s, and her desperation and angst over her own life. While most of the book is compulsive reading, addictive and entrancing, as Nomi's life starts to unravel, so does the plot. Many things ongoing within the novel are left unexplained, and by the end, when a major plot point is revealed, the complete lack of elaboration into it is frustrating and left me completely off-kilter and unsure of my feelings of the book. I think it's worth a read, for what it is, but proceed with the warning that there will be holes left in the plot when you're finished.
Date published: 2008-12-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from read all of Miriams books I know this book is a novel however the characters and place are very real and true. I also grew up in a sheltered Mennonite community and this book made me laugh until I cried. Miriam wirtes so great that you smell the summer air and feel like you are walking down the streets of this town. I have all of Miriams books and am so excited that a new one is coming this fall called The Flying Troutmans.
Date published: 2008-08-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A truly complicated kindness This is the kind of book that you will either love or hate. I loved it. It expresses perfectly the feeling of hating something but at the same time being unable to let it go. Coming from a much more progressive, yet still Mennonite background I could identify with many of the oppressive qualities of a small Mennonite town. On the other hand, nothing I ever experienced came remotely close to what the protagonist experiences. So, in all fairness, I don't think the reader comes away with a sense of what it is like to be a typical Mennonite. Instead, what makes this book good is that it perfectly describes a situation where you desperately want to leave, but you just can't find a way. it could be a job, a relationship, an addiction, whatever. So much of the imagery in the book revolves around that theme. The oppressive odor of the chicken barn, the killing of chickens, the harsh, mean, oppressive religion. It describes, in fact, the position that many people find themselves in. I think that's why it has found such a broad readership.
Date published: 2008-05-01
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Beautifully Brilliant A Complicated Kindness is a beautifully sad story. Nomi goes through so much in her life and she’s only 16. I would never have though that a novel about a Mennonite girl could be so captivating. Miriam Toews is brilliant. Nomi’s story is so emotional, so tangible; it breaks my heart a little. The emotions reached out and grabbed me. The only way to make them let go was to put the book down. Then, of course, you are left with the longing of wanting to know what happens to Nomi. It is a struggle between love, faith and freedom.
Date published: 2008-01-17
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Who knew? This was a title I picked up and put down at the bookstore for over year, before it was chosen for my bookclub. While the novel was written in an interesting style, the content was dull, depressing and unfortunate. I didn't care about the characters, and the only point of interest was insight into amish life, which lifestyle was a bit suprising, but otherwise uninspiring. Heather is usually bang on with her "picks" ... but this one was a miss.
Date published: 2006-05-31
Rated 4 out of 5 by from "Poignant" Toews delivers teen angst. My 15 year old daughter recommended this book to me and it spoke to us both. A great read for anyone.
Date published: 2006-05-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent read, completely in love with it I'm in love with this book!! Miriam has such a great sense of humour and is able to tell the story is such a way that keeps you wanting more. I love everything about Nomi and there's just something about Ray that I feel for. I never wanted this book to end, I could just keep going. It seems like simple everyday things but they unfold into these great little stories. I just love how Miriam writes and I can't get over how funny she is. Excellent read, completely in love with it!!!! Everyone should read it!!
Date published: 2006-05-31
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Oddly Entertaining I had huge expectations for this much hyped story, but it was a bit of a slow read. Interesting post-modern style on a rare subject.
Date published: 2006-05-31
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Disappointing This was the chosen book for my book club and I found it difficult to get through. I kept waiting for the good part and it never came! The plot kept following all the mundane parts of the main character's life in fine detail and then when anything hugely significant happened ( 1st sexual experience, father leaving, mother's affair, boyfriend's affair, revenge on boyfriend etc etc) there was no detail at all and it was often confusing as to whether it happened or not. Perhaps my expectations were to high for this book or maybe it's just not as good as it's reputation. Either way, I did not enjoy this book.
Date published: 2006-05-30
Rated 2 out of 5 by from COULDN'T GRAB MY ATTENTION i've heard from so many others that this book was amazing. in my case it could have been better. the style of writing (dialogue being in paragraph form) turn me off. it was hard to follow and i was constantly zoning in and out. theme and idea was good
Date published: 2006-05-21
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Powerful writing! I grew up near the community MT grew up in, and I find this book very realistic to the culture of that area. I was very very moved by the situation this young woman finds herself in. It was powerfully written and deeply moving. Not a happy book, but really unsightful and realistic and deeply touching. I loved the writing style. We had a great discussion at my book club on this book. I plan to read all fo MT's books! (IMHO - this was a much better book on a similar theme/note to "Catcher in the Rye")
Date published: 2006-04-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Loved it I am not sure if I read the same book as some of the negative reviews. I am so thrilled this book has won Canada Reads. I read it awhile ago and was touched by the raw emotion and truth that flowed throughout. I enjoyed the protagonist and found myself feeling her every emotion as I read. I was captivated through and through.
Date published: 2006-04-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Excellent writing Not a book for everyone, but the writing is absolutely fantastic. For Towes' mastery of the literary craft, it's a great read. As for 'destined to be a classic' - I'm sure it will be one of those books that will be read, analyzed and critiqued in high schools and universities across Canada. Or at least it really should be.
Date published: 2006-04-21
Rated 1 out of 5 by from It stinks! My dog could have written a better book The worst book i've read in a long long time. It's awful. I just thought I would spare anyone from picking up this book. I'll never get those minutes back that I spent wasting time reading this.
Date published: 2006-03-31
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Skip it. I read this as part of a book club selection. I really don't understand the praise this book is getting. It's depressing and a tad cynical. An easy read I would not recommend.
Date published: 2006-03-18
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great rewards if no Expectations If you are looking for a story with a beginning, middle and end you might very well be dissappointed in this book. If you want to laugh, cry and get a bigger meaning from life than this book is for you. Relax, open your mind and have a really good time reading this book.
Date published: 2006-03-09
Rated 1 out of 5 by from How depressing There is a reason why people are leaving the mennonite community in this novel and why they need anti-depressants. Reading the book depressed me. It was boring but I was determined to finish the book and now I wish I hadn't.
Date published: 2006-02-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Quickly became a favourite... When I first began to read this book, I thought that it was very slow and kind of boring. As the author depicted through this teenage girl, feelings of deep emotion and teen angst, however, this book quicky became a favourite of mine. Being a teenager myself it was really interesting to hear about how some of the hormonal feelings are completely universal even though the settings of people's lives can be completely different. The main characters monologues in the story are absolutely touching, the detail and depiction of the simplest events in this girl's troubled life wrentch your heart out at times. It is so beautifully written and I recommend this book to anybody who appreciates good literature and a good cry simply because of the depth at which the events touch. I absolutely the loved the style in which this book was written, it's really different from any other book that I've ever read and I simply cannot say enough good things about the emotinal range of this story. I have talked to lots of my friends that didn't enjoy it but for me it was just the ideal book for everything that was going on for me at the time. And unlike some others that have commented on this book, I loved the ending and I thought it left just the right taste in your mouth. Just really opened my eyes to the incredible power of other people's words! Enjoy!
Date published: 2006-01-20
Rated 2 out of 5 by from No plot I read this book after it was recommended to me. It's not really a story with a plot, it's basically the main character rambling. Which was amusing at times, but the story never really went anywhere, and the ending was pointless and just plain bad.
Date published: 2005-12-12
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Complicated Ending Toews' (pronounced Taves) novel may at first seem like an arbitrary attempt to explore the state of mind of a teenager living in the Mennonite community. However, as you hold on to the the faith that you have for the book and keep on reading, you will begin to see how she reflects much of her own childhood in this novel. It is not an easy read as there are many clues and hidden messages throughout the book. The ending will be especially hard to a novice reader, as further analysis will be required upon understanding the brilliant theme of the story. Toews takes her readers along through a journey exploring the fine line between love and faith.
Date published: 2005-12-10
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Canada should NOT read this I was terribly disappointed reading this book! It was soooo boring, and I had to force myself to get through it!
Date published: 2005-12-06
Rated 3 out of 5 by from A Complicated Kindness The struggle of our heroine with her loss of faith combined with the loss of her mother and her sister set the stage nicely for her isolation and estrangement in her community. Her rebellion against everything that had once been safe and true and her father's initial inablity to understand or connect with his remaining family member was tragic to watch as she continued to self-destruct. You were left wondering right up until the end how it would finish, and then wham bang, in 20 pages - all neatly wrapped up. Disappointing after the care given to weave the characters throughout the book.
Date published: 2005-12-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from excellent piece of writing this is an excellent, beautifully written book! the ending, in particular, is thought provoking and 'complicated' just like life is ... an honest piece of life.
Date published: 2005-09-06
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Do not buy this book. Take it out of the library. This was a disappointing book! I was extremely disappointed in the ending. I had to re- read the last 20 pages to understand the book. I thought I misunderstood or missed the ending. I do not understand why it has been on the best sellers list for so long.
Date published: 2005-08-31
Rated 1 out of 5 by from BORING!!! A total waste of money. I read about 40 pages and gave up, the characters were uninteresting and I really didn't care about any of them. With such great reviews I expected better.
Date published: 2005-07-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Depressing A superbly written but sad and depressing slice of a conservative, fundamentalist and patriarchal society from the viewpoint of the protagonist, Nomi Nickel, who is trying to come to terms with familial and personal collapse, her mother's marital unfaithfulness and eventual abandonment of the family, as well as her father's inability to deal with these realities. The young girl is left to fend for herself and the reader shares in her pain, alienation, depression, drug abuse and eventual promiscuity. Toews shows that when little bits of the familial and societal unravel and become alienated, the personal is also in danger of falling apart. Her characters are a masterful blend of dazed and vacuous people who claim to be saved by the grace of God, but who repudiate this hopeful reality with lopsided self-effort, dishonour, alcoholism, self-loathing, escapism and fabricating delusional stories, which Toews calls a ' beautiful lie ' . Those who manage to escape either disappear without a trace or go off to sift through the debris that others have left. None seem to be able to find closure, healing and rebirth. The irony is that Toews describes a society that prides itself on its Biblical beliefs yet the characters in this story rigidly adhere to narrow-minded and bigoted ideologies instead of authentic Christian lessons and truths. Toews exposes the unhealthy idealisation of religion, marriage, parenthood and being Mennonite with loathing, anger, cynicism and wry bitterness. This is a poignant story of imminent tragedy that suggests to the reader that being ‘religious’ or part of a church society is no guarantee to loving oneself, others or God.
Date published: 2005-07-14
Rated 2 out of 5 by from A complicated snore Truly wasted my money this time. Had been looking forward to reading this book after reading the first page. Yes there are a few beautifully written paragraphs but I found this book to be very depressing. Could someone not help this kid? I would have loved it if she had finally been able to contact her mom or her sister. Maybe she did but to be honest it was so boring by the end that I just skimmed thru the last 50 pages.
Date published: 2005-06-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from excellent Beautifully written, but sad, this book was an excellent read. Although it was not fast-paced I sympathized with the main character and thoroughly enjoyed it. I would recommend it to anyone.
Date published: 2005-05-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Complicated Kindness It was an excellent book up to the last twenty pages. It felt like all the characters were quickly being written off which was shocking after how well detailed each one was introduced.
Date published: 2005-05-01
Rated 1 out of 5 by from bookmama Horrible waste of money. If you want a coming of age book, read The Catcher in the Rye. It makes Holden seem normal. Nomi pales by comparison.
Date published: 2005-04-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Almost Flawless! I loved this book! And think I may have found a new author whose repetoire I must read through! The main Character Nomi, is so REAL. I found myself missing her mother and sister, and living her tumultous live right along with her! I am an avid reader and have yet to read a Canadian book as good as this one! Bring on the next one Miriam Toews, I am waiting!!!!
Date published: 2005-03-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Best fiction book I've read by a Canadian author My father was born in Steinbach although I was not raised as a Mennonite, rather as an Anglican in Alberta. When I was growing up it was an embarrassment to be associated with Mennonites despite the fact they were 'conscientious abjectors' and Dutch background (1950s). The book brought back memories of what it's like to live in rural western Canada, and Miriam Toews brought it out with her wonderful dry wit and humour. I felt for Nomi and the problems she faced, and cheered for her when she burnt the truck. A true redneck thing to do. Religion in whatever small town in the rural areas of western Canada can be oppressing, not just for Mennonites. I think some of the other reviewers are taking the subject matter of the book a little too seriously. After all, it's only FICTION. An author is entitled to write whatever they want. Thank you Miriam for a great book. I'm getting copies for my brothers in Edmonton.
Date published: 2005-02-16
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Pretty Average I am surprised this book is still a bestseller. It was interesting in the sense that it put you in a time and place you normally would not learn much about, but the book dragged on and was lacking any real substance or plot. It's a good light read, but don't expect anything earth shattering.
Date published: 2005-01-30
Rated 2 out of 5 by from typical canadian fiction typical canadian fiction, a depressing main character in a story that has no plot, no driving force and certainly no resolution. There are some good points in the book, sometimes toews lyrical humour is poignant and moving..but that's so few and far between that the reader loses interest. this book was not a page turner and i found that i never connected with the main character even though my teenage years are just barely behind me. i feel bad for anyone duped into buying the book due to teh governer's general award win, its typical canadian ficiton where nothing HAPPENS.
Date published: 2004-12-31
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Dull, depressing and sad I found the book to be dull, it left me depressed at night and hurting for the young women who just couldn't get on with her life. I felt sorry for her. I found it very repetitive and without a real plot. I got the point of the story from the first chapter, and it should have ended there.
Date published: 2004-11-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from a fantastic read!!!!!!!!!!!!! I thought this book was brilliant, and it is about time someone uncovered the truth about Steinbach, and other towns like it. I lived in Steinbach for 15 years, I grew up there and could directly relate to the struggles the protagonist went through. I now live in Winnipeg for two years now and will never go back to Steinbach. I was born in Ireland and moved to Steinbach at the age of three with my family. My family are not Mennonite and I had from the day I started school nothing but fundamentalist Mennonite religion shoved down my throat. I was not accepted for who I was but instead the person they needed to convert. I think it is a dangerous religion. Steinbach tried to change me, but I am still the same, and glad to me out of that place and tasting true freedom. Thank you Mariam for writing this book!!!
Date published: 2004-11-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from a fantastic read!!!!!!!!!!!!! I thought this book was brilliant, and it is about time someone uncovered the truth about Steinbach, and other towns like it. I lived in Steinbach for 15 years, I grew up there and could directly relate to the struggles the protagonist went through. I now live in Winnipeg for two years now and will never go back to Steinbach. I was born in Ireland and moved to Steinbach at the age of three with my family. My family are not Mennonite and I had from the day I started school nothing but fundamentalist Mennonite religion shoved down my throat. I was not accepted for who I was but instead the person they needed to convert. I think it is a dangerous religion. Steinbach tried to change me, but I am still the same, and glad to me out of that place and tasting true freedom. Thank you Mariam for writing this book!!!
Date published: 2004-11-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Towes goes where no Mennonite has gone before I come from a Mennonite town and could totally relate to Nomi and the emotional toil this type of upbringing can have on a young person. The writing was amazing and the story explored many ideas that Mennonites are generally not supposed to talk about. I think it's incredible that Towes bravely goes where no Mennonite has gone before - the truth!
Date published: 2004-11-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The very definition of bittersweet The latest by Miriam Toews is sad, wistful, but also very, very funny. Anyone who spent their adolescence feeling stuck in the middle of nowhere will appreciate the longings of the novel's heroine, the yearning for a life less ordinary.
Date published: 2004-10-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Read! By far the best and most thoughtful book I've read in a long, long time (perhaps ever.) Yes the story is not fast moving, but it is the underlying emotion which is the real beauty of the book.
Date published: 2004-10-07
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Depressing As a teenager I suffered from depression. It was a complicated time for me and I was very happy to grow up and clear my head. This book brought me back to the sad place that I have successfully avoided for the past few years. The story was interesting but it left me unsatisfied, and the ending was as depressing as the rest of the novel.
Date published: 2004-09-21
Rated 1 out of 5 by from uneventful I was excited to read this book because of the great reviews it received. I was quickly disappointed when I could barely get through the first half. The lack of story line and confusing language turned me off. The only reason I kept reading was for some sort of resolution at the end, but I found none. I was left with just as many questions at the end of the novel as at the beginning.
Date published: 2004-09-08
Rated 1 out of 5 by from A dreadful read The hilarious parts of this book were few and far between. This book centred on a deepressed teenager who did nothing but complain. I plodded through page after page of complaining hoping to find some redeeming characteristic in the end, but it ended with more of the same teenage complaining. I hoped to find an escape from the complaining, by finding out what happened to her sister and mother, but we were not given that information. I also found this book was terribly insulting to the Mennonites, portraying them as a masochistic group, as opposed to the gentle caring people that they are. Unless you are looking to be depressed, I would avoid this book.
Date published: 2004-08-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fictional Masterpiece I finished reading this book over two weeks ago and I can't seem to get it off of my mind. This is definitely one of the most amazing novels I have ever read. I find that it captures you in the narrative so well that it’s hard to decipher reality from fiction. I was over half way finished when I realized that Miriam Towes was the author of Summer of my amazing luck. In my opinion this book is an epic compared to her other works. I’m seriously contemplating picking it up and reading it from beginning to end once more.
Date published: 2004-07-18

– More About This Product –

A Complicated Kindness

A Complicated Kindness

by Miriam Toews

Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 256 pages, 7.99 × 5.18 × 0.84 in

Published: May 1, 2007

Publisher: Knopf Canada

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0676978568

ISBN - 13: 9780676978568

Read from the Book

OneI 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 chucking feathery corpses onto a conveyor belt in a dimly lit cinder-block slaughterhouse
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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 unanswered questions.

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 love.

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 to love.”


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 third novel, A Complicated Kindness, has
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Editorial Reviews

"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 —that would be the three-ply- tissue, insufficient- to- the- day, who- knew- I- had- this- much- snot- in- me brand of sad
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Bookclub Guide

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 Mennonite upbringing?

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 health?

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 especially funny?

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.