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Swing Low: A Life

4.09  ·  Rating Details  ·  712 Ratings  ·  86 Reviews
One morning Mel Toews put on his coat and hat and walked out of town, prepared to die. A loving husband and father, faithful member of the Mennonite church, and immensely popular schoolteacher, he was a pillar of his close-knit community. Yet after a lifetime of struggle, he could no longer face the darkness of manic depression. With razor-sharp precision, "Swing Low" tell ...more
Hardcover, 191 pages
Published December 5th 2001 by Arcade Publishing (first published January 1st 2000)
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Uncle
I will make a sign for my doorknob that reads: C’mon in, patient is already disturbed. - Miriam Toews, Swing Low.

In her family memoir Swing Low: A Life, Mennonite author Miriam Toews reconstructs the life and death of her father. It is a beautifully written book, yet one dealing with difficult subject matter: mental illness and suicide. Her memoir of her father’s life touches upon the ties of family and community, and the struggle between faith and despair.

Mel Toews (Miriam’s father) was a res
...more
Clif Hostetler
Jan 02, 2012 Clif Hostetler rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
This is a memoir of a man (Mel Toews) who suffered from life long bipolar disorder, commits suicide, and then tells his story from beyond the pale (i.e. beyond the grave). Do I have your attention yet? Obviously he couldn't write his memoir after committing suicide. But his memoir did get written in his own first person voice--by his daughter. The very concept causes me to shutter from its haunted poignancy.

The day before his suicide his daughter, Miriam, asked him what he was thinking. His answ
...more
David Townsend
Jun 22, 2013 David Townsend rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There are no windows within the dark house of depression through which to see others, only mirrors.
Petra
Jun 10, 2016 Petra rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
"There are no windows within the dark house of depression through which to see others, only mirrors."
I found this to be the most telling sentence of what it must be like to be fully and deeply depressed.

This is a lovely tribute to one's father. It's warmly, lovingly and tenderly told, with understanding and compassion. It's beautiful in this context.

Mel's story is a remarkable one. His life was successful in every way: a job he loved, a wife he loved, a family he loved, friends he enjoyed......
...more
Nancy
Sep 06, 2011 Nancy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This had to be an incredibly difficult book to write. Miriam, the protagonist's daughter, tried to get into his head and recreate thoughts he might have been having. She began at the end. The prologue is Mel's end. He committed suicide at the age of 62. Having taught school for 40 years, sustained a marriage and a life, hiding mental illness through his work and church devotion, he ended his life before dementia took his mind.

The first few chapters confused me a bit. They were circular and diffi
...more
Lydia Presley
Oct 02, 2011 Lydia Presley rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, memoirs, 2011
Original review posted here

Let me just say … I did not enjoy Irma Voth – the fiction novel that Miriam Toews wrote and I reviewed just a few weeks ago. So it was with some trepidation that I picked Swing Low up off my shelf.

I was blown away.

Seriously, this book was nothing at all like Irma Voth. It was clear, concise, and a beautiful tribute to her father. Miriam’s voice, as she speaks from her father’s point of view, is crystal clear, heart-breaking and filled with love. I never once got the se
...more
C Valeri
Mar 10, 2016 C Valeri rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wow this book was really heartbreaking at the same time it was uplifting and hilarious. Not to be undertaken lightly! But a really beautiful story and nice tribute to her dad. TJ you may like this book!
Edith
Jan 12, 2010 Edith rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir, biography
This was quite an amazing book. This (former Mennonite) gal is an excellent writer. In an unusual manner for a memoir, Miriam writes from her father's point of view; it took me a chapter or so to habitually think in the right frame of mind. When "he" writes about his state of mind (he was manic-depressive), it is actually Miriam writing what she surmised his state of mind might well have been. He was such a productive man in his manic phase, a 6th grade teacher, and yet when asked by his daughte ...more
Heather
Oct 15, 2011 Heather rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I won a copy of this book through a giveaway on Goodreads. At the time I received it, I couldn't remember having signed up for it, or why I might have, although after having read the back cover description it seemed fitting that I should win this. I too lost my father to suicide, and Miriam's writing mirrored a lot of what we went through, things my dad said (or didn't say). That same helplessness, the feeling of not being good enough, or not having done enough for the people in his life, was so ...more
Alex
Mar 07, 2016 Alex rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Very, very sad but also very, very funny in a lot of ways. Well written, easy to read and very likable narrator. Didn't think I would like this book as much as I did--not usually a fan of Canadian lit but this was great.
Vivienne Strauss
Well written, heartbreaking and I couldn't put it down.
Claire Cameron
Dec 07, 2013 Claire Cameron rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I love Miriam Toews' writing and this was one of my favourite of her books, but I admit to be biased. I wrote more about it on my blog - http://www.claire-cameron.com/completely-biased-reviews-swing-low-by-miriam-toews/
Mason
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Megan C
Oct 25, 2007 Megan C rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Miriam Toews memoir of her father's struggle with manic depression in a small Mennonite community is astounding. Written from her father's perspective the book is both beautiful and sad. I would recommend it to anyone.
Lisa Frankel
Feb 17, 2015 Lisa Frankel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Another hit from Miriam Toews! It's told (by Miriam, his daughter) through snippets of Mel's memories of his life, almost as if he had Altzheimer's. I would recommend reading All My Puny Sorrows first. It was interesting to read where Marj's sadness came from. Though tragic, this book is also really funny, just like All My Puny Sorrows. Both dealt with depression, but with lightheartedness. "I will make a sign for my doorknob that reads: C'mon in, patient is already disturbed." "Patient is able ...more
Allison
Mar 03, 2015 Allison rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An amazing book. The memoir of a manic-depressive Mennonite man (not to mention: teacher, son, brother, husband, father, grandfather, gardener, traveller, historian, Canadian...) looking back on his life in the days leading up to his suicide, written posthumously by his daughter. Does that make sense? No, Swing Low is complex on so many levels I cannot explain in this review. I'm not sure the last time I read such an original book. It made me cry, several times. I adore Miriam Toews' writing, an ...more
Julia
Aug 06, 2014 Julia rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
My faith in Miriam Toews as a writer has been completely restored in this loving tribute to her father who suffered from Manic Depression and eventually took his own life.

He was such an accomplished school teacher and well loved and respected as a pillar of a small Mennonite community in Manitoba.

Miriam is writing her father, Mel's life as she imagines he would have told it. Her writing is graceful, respectful and compassionate. It is a moving account of the awful struggles of a terrible illnes
...more
Darren Tang
Swing Low: A Life. The title says it all, doesn't it? An autobiographical novel written in the first person through a third party persepective. This novel had no climax, no twists, no turns; it was simply the catharsis Toews uses in order to better understand her own fathers suicide. Although the novel delves deep into depression as a clinical disease, there are moments and emotions that stand out. Love. His marriage to his ever loving wife is something that should be rejoiced. In the end, this ...more
Jennie
I appreciate the different perspective this story brings us – the inner mind of a manic depressive as he spirals towards suicide. I felt his confusion and desperate desire to be someone other than who he was, yet I found myself skimming the last half of the book. The book was full of emotion, regret and longing but for me it just got lost in the presentation. There were no quotations and it felt as it if the book was one long never-ending paragraph. This was probably intentional, a way to show t ...more
Nathan
I've been trying to think of a way to describe this book. I think the only thing I can really say is "profound".

Basically, the book is a recounting of Mel Toews' life, written by his daughter, but from his point of view. It is a graceful story of growing up, dating, getting married, becoming a school teacher, and having kids all in a small, conservative Mennonite town. But it is so much more than that!
Mel suffers from bipolar disorder (then called manic depression). In the present of the book, h
...more
Dorothy
Mar 29, 2012 Dorothy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I expected to find this book sad or depressing but that was definitely not the case.

The subject matter of this memoir is a serious one. The author writes about the life of her father, Mel Toews, who was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder as a young man, and in spite of this disability, went on to become a respected and well loved elementary schoolteacher, father and member of the Mennonite Church in Steinbach, Manitoba.

Mel seemed to be able to channel his mania into being a creative schoolteacher,
...more
Bücher-Stöberia
Sep 17, 2013 Bücher-Stöberia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Mit ihrem Buch „Mr T., der Spatz und die Sorgen der Welt“ hat Miriam Toews etwas in meinen Augen ganz Wunderbares geschaffen und geschafft: Sie lässt ihren bereits verstorbenen Vater, der zu Hause jahrelang geschwiegen hat, noch einmal zu Wort kommen, lässt ihn ganz in Ruhe über sein Leben reflektieren und gibt ihm somit die Chance zu erkennen, wie lebenswert sein Leben tatsächlich war.

Er erzählt von seinen Krankenhausaufenthalten mit seinen Schwestern und Ärzten und den anderen Patienten ebenso
...more
john collins
Sep 07, 2014 john collins rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Miriam Toews is one of my guilty pleasures. I was trying to read more canadian authors when a friend pointed her out to me. I usually find my next book in the Fantasy/Sci Fi section so picking up "A Complicated Kindness" was a large deviation for me. Im sure glad i did, These books are fantastic. Her characters are real people, found in our lives, their struggles often mirror my own. Perfect books for reading at the cottage, or an a rainy day. Its close to home escapism at its best.
Erin
Sep 08, 2011 Erin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bio-memoir
Going into Swing Low, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’ve read memoirs, but never about someone other than the author. That sort of book, I’d always assumed, was called a biography. But Swing Low is certainly not the latter. Toews has written her father’s story through his own eyes, as she pieced together and imagined it herself.

The resulting portrait is of a deeply complex man: a Mennonite husband, father, teacher and friend who adored his job and family but struggled daily with bipolar disorder
...more
Julia
Oct 03, 2011 Julia rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I think this book is incredible! It is Toews's memoir of her father's life, published in Canada a decade ago but being released for the first time in the United States. It is written in her father's voice, a brave choice and very convincing. Her father, Mel, the book's narrator, lived with bipolar disorder since the age of seventeen. As the book opens he is lying in a local hospital that lacks a psychiatric staff, scrambling to write notes on a legal pad that will make sense of his situation and ...more
Allison
I want to read more of Miriam Towes' books, because I enjoyed her writing style so much in The Flying Troutmans. She wrote this book as a memoir, in her father's voice. He had committed suicide and had struggled his entire life with bipolar disorder. I found it interesting. The man accomplished so much and was so loved by those around him, and it was so sad that his life ended in such a tragic and violent way.
McGuffy Morris
Jul 22, 2012 McGuffy Morris rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Miriam Toews wrote the memoir of her father's life. She writes this from his perspective, in his voice. This is amazing, especially given his lifelong struggle with depression and bipolar disorder.

Mel Toews is much loved by his family and friends. He is also a beloved and popular teacher, as well as a devout member of his Mennonite community. From her father's viewpoint, we are able to see and feel depression and bipolar struggles. We experience his daily battle to balance illness with reality.
...more
Erica
We're publishing this in pb in the US this fall, coinciding with the publication by harper hardcover of miriam's new novel. I read a complicated kindness a long time ago and always meant to read more of her work. Swing Low is an interesting hybrid--ostensibly, it's a memoir of miriam's father's depression. But though it's written by miriam, with the exception of the first and last part it's written from her father's point of view. Before I started, I thought that this would be off-putting or har ...more
Penny
Jan 26, 2015 Penny rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Another beautiful book by Miriam Toews. It is a recounting of the final years of her father's life -- told as if she was her father. Her father who suffered from manic-depression and in the end kills himself. It is likely her attempt to try to understand how his mind worked an what life was like for him. A very poignant and honest portrayal.
Joyce Douglas
Feb 19, 2016 Joyce Douglas rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Miriam toews is an author I have really enjoyed. This memoir gives readers an understanding of toews history. She delicately weaves her fathers memoir into a respectful but honest portrayal of life lived with manic depression. It wasn't easy but there is a lot of love.
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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
More about Miriam Toews...

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“Perhaps depression is caused by asking oneself too many unanswerable questions.” 100 likes
“She was becoming sad. There is no joy involved in following others' expectations of yourself” 35 likes
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