Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Swing Low” as Want to Read:
Swing Low
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Swing Low

4.13  ·  Rating details ·  1,268 ratings  ·  144 reviews
“Audacious,original and profoundly moving . . . . Healing is a likely outcome of a bookimbued with the righteous anger, compassion and humanity of Swing Low.”—Globe and Mail (Canada)

Reverberatingwith emotional power, authenticity, and insight, Swing Low isMiriam Toews' daring and deeply affecting memoir ofher father’s struggle with manic depression in a small Mennonite com

Kindle Edition, 243 pages
Published (first published January 1st 2000)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 4.13  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,268 ratings  ·  144 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Swing Low
David Townsend
Jun 22, 2012 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.
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
Jeanette (Again)

I wanted to read this because I read the author's novel All My Puny Sorrows. The novel deals with family suicide, and I heard that Miriam Toews had experience with suicides in her own family. I ended up liking this book quite a lot more than the novel.

This is a biography of her father, which she wrote in the first person, as if she were her father. Her father Mel suffered from manic depression (now called bipolar disorder) from a very young age. He managed to remain relatively happy and functio
Clif Hostetler
Dec 29, 2011 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
Jul 18, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: canadian-author
"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......
Feb 04, 2019 rated it it was ok
Toews is one of my favorites, and when reading this, one really feels the struggle of a family member with manic depression - it's not easy for anyone - the person experiencing it, the spouse and caregiver, the children at any age.

As important as this book felt (especially to Toews as she writes this from her father's imaginary perspective), this was incredibly hard to read. Not because it was such a hard subject, but the start-stop of the writing. Toews flips from her father's past to present
Allison ༻hikes the bookwoods༺
Miriam Toews wrote this memoir from her father's perspective as a tribute to him after he took his own life. To show the value of his life when he considered himself worthless. While I appreciate what she was trying to do here, and that it was also a means to her own healing, there wasn't as much insight into living with bipolar disorder as I had hoped. I feel like the reader may have garnered more information, and emotion too, if the book was written from her own perspective. ...more
Mar 18, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: march-2017, borrowed
I very much enjoy Toews' fiction, and whilst Swing Low, which is a fictionalised memoir of her father, is a step away from what I am used to in her work, I am pleased to report that it was rather wonderful. The approximation of her father's own voice feels both candid and believable. Very engrossing and darkly comic, thoughtful and moving, Swing Low is ultimately a very loving tribute. ...more
Patrice Jones
Dec 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars
Sep 06, 2011 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
Lydia Presley
Sep 19, 2011 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
Mar 02, 2016 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!
May 30, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Prompted to read this because of a profile of Toews in the New Yorker and buzz about her latest novel. This is a lightly fictionalized memoir of her father, who was outwardly an upstanding citizen and dynamic teacher but inwardly deeply depressed and in the end committed suicide. Not a depressing book, but deeply, deeply sad.
Nov 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
"There are no windows within the dark house of depression through which to see others, only mirrors."

(loc. 2625)
Jan 12, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography, memoir
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
Oct 14, 2011 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
Apr 22, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: rc2019
The absolute strength of this book is that it feels like Melvin Toews is the one writing it. The voice is clear as a bell as it bounces between the present day where he is hospitalized before taking his own life and the past where he tells the story up to the present.

I am constantly amazed and humbled by Miriam Toews' writing. I love her work though the subject matter is not the cheeriest. I think her subjects of mental illness, depression and suicide are vital to discuss in open and validating
Sarah Obsesses over Books & Cookies
Just fantastically sad and brilliant. I love Miriam Toews and I feel so awful for her family to have lost her father at a relatively young age (63-ish?) to suicide. She writes from his point of view after sorting through his many years of notes as an obsessive recorder and manic depressive. I could not put this down.
Claire Cameron
Oct 27, 2013 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 - ...more
Oct 25, 2007 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. ...more
Joey Comeau
Dec 16, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: recommendations
Miriam Toews has written a book about her father's life and suicide. She has written it, however, as a novel, and in the first person from his perspective. It is completely unsentimental and yet beautiful. ...more
Mar 01, 2016 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. ...more
Tender. Sad. Funny. Beautiful.
"I’m a methodical man so this business re: losing my mind is frustrating,” he writes. And: “Perhaps depression is caused by asking oneself too many unanswerable questions.”

If you or someone you love deals with mental illness, you know how honest this 'memoir' is. The outside person and the inside. The ironic opposite that places the public face as the strong one, and saves personal home settings for the illness to unbuckle.
Polite truths, sweet spirit, dry humour, honest reflection, routine trig
Jul 13, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A moving, eloquent, and deeply affecting book. I will be seeking out other books by Miriam Toews.

The author's father, Mel Toews, was a loving father, a faithful Mennonite, and a gifted & much-admired teacher. And he suffered from bipolar disorder. One morning when he was in his 60's, he went for a walk and deliberately stepped in front of a train, killing himself.

In Swing Low, Miriam tries to make sense of her father's suicide by writing the story of his life as if from his own journals. Reading
Oct 06, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019
4 stars. I’ve enjoyed many of Miriam Toews’s books, with that little bit of extra enthusiasm and vested interest knowing she is a Manitoban author. But while I was aware of her Mennonite background, as it is often a theme in her novels, this story, written in the voice of her father, really felt like a window into her life. Perhaps it felt all the more honest as she was conveying her father’s views of her and their life together. As I read, I couldn’t help but think of books like The Unlikely Pi ...more
May 28, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a memoir written by the daughter of the main character. I thought it was a very sweet story in the way she wrote about how she thought her father felt dealing with his manic depression since he was young. Even though I knew how the book was going to end as soon as I started it, I still cried while reading the last few pages. It was very touching and I come from a family that has dealt with depression and suicides and her story helped paint the beautiful but difficult life of her father. ...more
Feb 14, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I've been racking up the Miriam Toews book miles and this was one of my favourites thus far. She always brings some lightness to the heaviest subjects and this book is no exception. It is a memoir about her father's lifelong struggle with bipolar disorder in a small Mennonite community (Steinbach, Manitoba). It is written in first person from her father's perspective after he committed suicide and I bet you've never read a family memoir like it before. ...more
Jun 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Really good book, Miriam Toews does not disappoint. I love the way she writes. This is of course a very emotional book, but what a way to honour her father and bring about alternative perspectives to mental health in a society that drastically needs these alternative perspectives and validating people are they are.
John Senner
Oct 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Miriam Toews' father was a silent, closed, man at home but an exuberant elementary school teacher and community activist away from home. When he kills himself by stepping in front of a train, his daughter attempts to reconstruct his life and let him narrate it from his hospital bed. Part of the problem is the Mennonite culture of "not talking about it." ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • Sembrava bellezza
  • La Femme gelée
  • Trois saisons d'orage
  • La settimana bianca
  • Rabbit Foot Bill
  • Bellevue Square
  • Crepitio di stelle
  • Quello che non ti dicono
  • This Accident of Being Lost: Songs and Stories
  • The Family of Pascual Duarte
  • Days by Moonlight
  • It's All in Your Head: True Stories of Imaginary Illness
  • The Magician
  • Son of a Trickster (Trickster, #1)
  • Saving Jemima: Life and Love with a Hard-Luck Jay
  • The Commissar Vanishes:  The Falsification of Photographs and Art in Stalin's Russia
  • The Vapors: A Southern Family, the New York Mob, and the Rise and Fall of Hot Springs, America's Forgotten Capital of Vice
  • A Game of Hide and Seek
See similar books…
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

Related Articles

  Speaking with Adam Grant feels like having your brain sandblasted, in a pleasant sort of way. As an author, professor, and psychologist,...
70 likes · 1 comments
“Perhaps depression is caused by asking oneself too many unanswerable questions.” 137 likes
“There are no windows within the dark house of depression through which to see others, only mirrors.” 8 likes
More quotes…