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A Complicated Kindness

3.61 of 5 stars 3.61  ·  rating details  ·  10,934 ratings  ·  771 reviews
A landmark literary novel, balancing unbearable sadness and beauty in the voice of a witty, beleaguered teen-ager whose family is destroyed by fundamentalist Christianity
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published September 15th 2004 by Counterpoint (first published 2004)
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Brad
As I read Miriam Toews' A Complicated Kindness, I couldn't stop thinking about Richard Dawkins' assertion that religion is child abuse.

Looking around at our neighbours and friends, ourselves and our parents, it is easy to laugh off this idea. We may see our churches doing good works in the community; they may be providing relief for Haiti or some other disaster struck land; they may be providing shelter for the homeless or the physically abused; their beliefs and morality may be providing guidan
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Bonnie
Governor General’s Award 2004
Shortlisted for Giller 2006
Winner Canada Reads 2006


Half-way through reading A Complicated Kindness it struck me that the only way Miriam Toews could write in such an authentic voice would be if she herself had grown up in a Mennonite community. Sure enough, Miriam WAS raised Mennonite in small town Steinbach, Manitoba. There was a Mennonite Village Museum there when she grew up. “That is taken right out of my life,” she says in an Interview with Dave Weich (Nov. 8, 2
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jo
it was hard to let this book end. as the remaining pages dwindled and dwindled, i found more and more things to do instead of reading. maybe i should brush my teeth. maybe i should check my email. maybe i should sleep even though i have ONE PAGE TO GO.

part of it is that miriam toews is a genius at creating truly compelling characters. nomi is a gas. nomi is the kid you always wanted to be -- funny, smart, sassy, resourceful, a world-champion bullshit detector, unbelievably creative, sweet, lovin
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Shiela
Meh... I know several of my esteemed colleagues highly rated this one but it just didn't do it for me. There were too many unanswered questions and not enough closure. So what happened to the mom and sister? What happened to father and her best friend? What did she end up doing with her new found freedom and life? And what was up with that thing from Mr. Quiring? I think I totally got lost on that part. I plodded along the book waiting for something to happen and it just didn't. I did enjoy her ...more
Terence
Nov 09, 2009 Terence rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Terence by: Stefanie
My friend Stefanie (who recommended the book) and I share a love of reading but rarely do our Venn diagrams overlap except when it comes to novels about alienated, mixed-up teens.

Nomi Nickel joins Daniel Handler's Flannery Culp (The Basic Eight) as one of my favorite characters. Like Flan, Nomi is a bright, sympathetic teen-ager struggling to create a reasonably happy life for herself.

She's also, like Flan, one of the least reliable narrators in the history of literature.

The Nickels are Mennonit
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Maciek
Miriam Toews's third novel - and the first one I've read - won the Governor General's Award for Fiction and was nominated for the Giller Prize; it also won the 2006 edition of Canada reads, the first book by a female novelist to do so.

A Complicated Kindness is narrated by the sixteen year old Nomi Nickel, a Canadian girl living in a small town of East Village in Manitoba, near the American border, during the 1970's and 1980's. Young Nomi daydreams about living in New York City, the "real" East
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Nine
(A slightly edited version of this review appears at The Rumpus.)

I started reading A Complicated Kindness on my last day in Barcelona. I ran away to Barcelona because of a girl. Also I’d been grumpy and mopey for the previous month or so, due to the whole uncertain future thing, so really the whole disappointment with the girl just kind of tipped me over the edge. I figured I could fritter my money away while moping in Edinburgh, or I could fritter it away travelling.

I’d never really bothered to
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Andrea
“I hated it” was my loud outburst when a nice polite dinner conversation with friends turned to the discussion of this book. My outburst surprised me, not because it was loud and obnoxious since I am often guilty of being both, but because I didn’t know that I had such passion for this book! I had no idea I “hated it” until the words came tumbling out of my mouth.

Until that time, I think I would have described my thoughts about the book as ambivalent. I found the whole thing to be rather tediou
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Jennifer (aka EM)
I appreciated this book much more on re-read (it's hard to pick a fave of hers - but at least I now have all three that I've read so far clearly in my mind). I am still slightly more impressed with the two that followed, The Flying Troutmans and Irma Voth, but it's only because ... because ... why? It's now the merest gradation of five star-dom that separate them.

There is no doubt that Nomi's 'voice' is a spectacular accomplishment. Distill it, and each drop is pure essence du Toews.

I think tha
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Chimera
I’ve let a few days pass since I finished this book, but I have to admit I’m still not sure what to make of it… It was highly recomended to me and proved to be a very interesting read but I feel like I missed out on much of its meaning.

Written in the voice of Nomi, it follows her trains of thought from one idea to the next, from past to present, from misery to humour, from memory to hope… I found the resulting account difficult to follow and get caught in. But at the same time it brings us strai
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Lise Petrauskas
This book was so funny and sad at the same time that I was on an emotional roller coaster the whole time I was reading it, bursting out laughing one minute and feeling all "awwww, my heart" the next. I finished it last night and was completely wrecked and yet immediately wanted to start it from the beginning. This is an oddly suspenseful book, too, for one that deals with such quiet subject-matter. Toews managed to write about very small, daily things and maintain my interest in the over all nar ...more
Krystie Park
A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews is the story of a girl's journey through Mennonite culture, and her struggle to break free.

Nomi is a teenage girl living with her extremely religious father in a town known for simplicity and restriction from the outside world. After her mother and sister escape from their Mennonite community to pursue a more carefree and less religious lifestyle, Nomi is left questioning the real meaning of life. Nomi constantly tries to find release from her overbearing
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Adrienne Michetti
It has been a long time since I bawled like a baby while reading but let me tell you, the last few chapters of this book have had me crying a river. The last paragraph was so tender and beautiful and sad it might be the most emotional and nostalgic ending I've ever read. Ever.

Nomi is one of the most personable narrators I've known and is definitely one of my favourites. I can't believe this story is over. I will miss her so much and will think of her often -- that is no exaggeration. I feel lik
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Charlotte
Apr 23, 2008 Charlotte rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: precocious teenage narrators, God
I don't know, is this a three? It was a fun read. I loved the narrator and I wish she could have come over to hang out. But, there was a little too much drama in the plot. I mean, you already have a Mennonite girl whose mother and sister have left the community (shunning! there are days when I want to shun people) and who is having a spiritual/drug-induced personal crisis. How much more drama do you need? Affairs, best friends dying, sad old people, etc--no. You do not need these things. I'm gla ...more
Jaylia3
I always fall in love with Toews's characters, in this case it's Nomi, a rebellious Mennonite teenager with a dry sense of humor whose family and home furnishings keep disappearing. Nomi lives in the "world's most non-progressive community", East Village, a small deeply religious town in Canada that practices shunning and attracts tourists from around the world who want to witness the simple life first hand, but Nomi's fantasy is to hang out in Greenwich Village with Lou Reed.I read this as slow ...more
AB
Jun 29, 2008 AB rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to AB by: Courtney
One of the only books I've read recently that really did live up to its "It'll make you laugh -- and cry!"-style reviews. I did laugh, even as things became gut-wrenchingly, heart-stompingly sad.
Uncle
It’s hard to grieve in a town where everything that happens is God’s will. It’s hard to know what to do with your emptiness when you’re not supposed to have emptiness. Miriam Toews, A Complicated Kindness.

A Complicated Kindness (published 2004) was the breakout book for Miriam Toews. Though a critical and commercial success (at least in Canada), its publication was not without some controversy. The novel is set in western Canada, in a small Mennonite community. The Mennonite faith traditionally
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Darren Tang
At the end of this novel, I truly felt a strong connection to Nomi. After every chapter I got a stronger sense of what it means to try and find out who you are in such a crazy world. It is not only refreshing but also heartbreaking to hear a voice like Nomi's, begin to arrive at the realization that her childhood is in the past. So honest, so captivating, so powerful, but yet so sad in almost a humourous way. I believe that it is Nomi's memories of seemingly insignificant events that struck a ch ...more
Edith
This story is of a 16-year-old Mennonite (those with ancestors from Russia) girl in Canada who is left with her patient and bewildered father after her older sister and her mother have left town. There is no communication from either of the “excommunicated” women and Nomi and her father are floundering in their lives. Nomi is a lost rebel who is trying to make sense of the upheaval in her life. She smokes, drinks, skips school, wanders around town at night, hangs out a lot with her boyfriend, an ...more
Chinook
Let's first just get out of the way how geeked out I was to see a reference to Reach for the Top, having myself been geeky enough in high school to have been at the provincial finals one year.

I really, really liked this book. It seemed to have the perfect balance between things I could relate to and things that the author was teaching me about a group of people that I have never known much about (in particular, I thought the Mennonites were much more like the Amish and I assumed that at the ver
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Crystal_w
A Complicated Kindness written by Miriam Toews was definitely complicated to understand yet included many interesting aspects to it. The novel is about a prairie Mennonite teenage girl, whose sister and mother has been ex-communicated from the church. She is left to live with her father, Ray, and goes through her own teenage depression and angst. The result of her family’s departure is her taking drugs, smoking, drinking alcohol and skipping school. Miriam Toews captures Nomi’s emotions well, a ...more
Urban Crow
you know, it's really too bad that rohinton mistry won the governer general's award for a fine balance a few years back because now i expect every gg winner to be that good, which is why i picked up this book. having said this, a complicated kindness is a somewhat enjoyable read about a young woman marooned in mennonite town in manitoba while her family disappears, one by one, from around her. no doubt, this book stands in the canadian tradition of flat external landscapes with which tumultous i ...more
Jen
Okay, now that I have had a couple days to reflect on this book, I had to get on here and rewrite my review. I should know by now, not to write a review so soon after completing a book.

The good: It was quirky, funny, and odd. I did find it a book that I wanted to pick up and read.

The bad: The writing style. I don't know if this author was just trying to be cutting edge or what, but the layout of the book sucked. She jumped around with out cluing you in to what she was doing, so I often felt lost
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Julie
I enjoyed this book so much! I am still not sure if I was supposed to find this book quite as funny as I did, but I can’t remember ever chuckling out loud so many times from a book before. I loved Nomi’s character: the way she told her story, her goofiness, her awkwardness, her insight about the people and world around her, the way she spoke her mind, her weird digressions of thought about random things that didn’t seem to have anything to do with anything, her exaggerations (She had to play cen ...more
Jen
Wow. What a unique and compelling narrator Toews creates in Nomi Nickel. She is captivating from start to finish.

This book is equal parts hilarity and heartbreak. It provides insight into a modern, Mennonite community in the Canadian Prairies and while the narrator is unquestionably critical of her town and community, I never felt that Toews gave an imbalanced perspective. The ultimate uncertainty we are left with as to the choices Nomi will make confirms that life is, as the title suggests, com
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Joanna
I absolutely loved this book, though it was not at all what I expected. I'd thought that the book would have more focus on the Mennonite church and its practices, but instead the book was one of the more wonderful character-driven novels I've read. The book fell apart in the final chapter, but I'm willing to forgive the author not knowing how to end because the rest fo the book was such a delight to read. The book captures the experience of faith followed by questioning in a way that was startli ...more
Zack Rock
Toews' magnum opus, a fictionalized remembrance of her childhood in a small Canadian Mennonite village. Although the author manages sympathy for many of the novel's more unseemly characters, the bitterness of her experiences is palpable throughout the work. Hilarious and painful, the main character's life is one you can't help but wish to be a part of even as it falls inevitably apart.
Marie
I devoured this book. Quirky Mennonite teenager in quiet Canadian town inches her way toward nervous breakdown while her family and furniture disappear. What I loved about this book was the unexpected wit and sarcasm. It's not happy, it's not even necessarily hopeful, but it sucked me in and I can't help but think of the character as a real person and hope that she pulled through OK.
Gail Jeidy
Here's a book I found by happenstance; I picked it up at the book fair at our local high school a couple years ago. I was clearing away piles of books to get rid of and stopped to read the first page then kept going. I have never read Canadian novelist Miriam Toews before but found this book compelling and hard to put down. The voice of 16-year-old Nomi, a Mennonite girl in small-town Canada, struggling to grow up amid a crumbling family and overwhelming feelings of loss. Nomi is keenly aware on ...more
Sondra
Story of Mennonite teenager living in small village in modern world, whose friends & family keep running away from the sect and leaving her behind. Sad story. It's hard to imagine that adults could leave their children, or to shun family because of religious doctrine.
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Miriam Toews is a Canadian writer of Mennonite descent. She grew up in Steinbach, Manitoba and has lived in Montreal and London, before settling in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Toews studied at the University of Manitoba and the University of King's College in Halifax, and has also worked as a freelance newspaper and radio journalist. Her non-fiction book "Swing Low: A Life" was a memoir of her father, a vi
...more
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“Is it wrong to trust in a beautiful lie if it helps you get through life?” 53 likes
“Things shouldn't hinge on so very little. Sneeze and you're highway carnage. Remove one tiny stone and you're an avalanche statistic. But I guess if you can die without ever understanding how it happened then you can also live without a complete understanding of how. And in a way that's kind of relaxing.” 19 likes
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