Updated on December 11, 2015
47. ‘All My Puny Sorrows’ by Miriam Toews
I don’t think I was mentally prepared for All My Puny Sorrows. I read the blurb first, but still somehow went into it not quite getting what was waiting for me inside. What I experienced was emotionally gut-wrenching and absolutely brilliant.
This book was sent to me by a friend. It probably isn’t a book I would have chosen for myself, but sometimes the best recommendations are surprises that you would otherwise have passed by.
All My Puny Sorrows is a novel about two sisters, Yolandi and Elfrieda. Elf wants to kill herself. Yoli wants to stop her. If suicide is a sensitive, slightly too close-to-home subject for you, you might want to avoid this book for now, or at least mentally gird yourself for a real assault on your emotions. I use the word ‘brutal’ quite often, but this book truly is brutal. The things these sisters say to each other – especially during one particularly harrowing scene in a hospital bedroom – are so ruthlessly truthful that it almost physically hurt to read it.
I did a little research into the author, Miriam Toews. Sadly her father and sister both committed suicide, so it’s clear that the plot of All My Puny Sorrows is heavily based on Toews’ real-life experiences. That gives the book a truly realistic edge – you feel that she is writing down the emotions suicidal people and their relatives truly experience and, probably, can’t quite vocalise. In this way Toews seems to give a (highly articulate) voice to the often wordless frustrations of real people who go through these traumas.
Ultimately, during the course of the novel Yolandi must decide whether or not it is selfish to keep alive someone who clearly and unquestionably wants to die. It might seem a horrific idea, to allow or even help someone to kill themselves, but this story carefully acknowledges that love simply might not be enough, and sometimes what feels so wrong could actually be right. I won’t spoil the ending for you (although it’s clear from page one that it won’t be happy) – I’ll just say that Toews’ writing is powerful, moving and raw.
“She wanted to die and I wanted her to live and we were enemies who loved each other.”
Have you read this book? I’d love to know your thoughts!
Want to read this? You can buy the book here.