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All My Puny Sorrows

3.97  ·  Rating details ·  21,343 ratings  ·  2,792 reviews
A New York Times 2015 Holiday Gift Guide selection.

Elf and Yoli are sisters. While on the surface Elfrieda's is an enviable life (she's a world-renowned pianist, glamorous, wealthy, and happily married) and Yolandi's a mess (she's divorced and broke, with two teenagers growing up too quickly), they are fiercely close—raised in a Mennonite household and sharing the hardship
Paperback, 330 pages
Published July 28th 2015 by McSweeney's (first published April 15th 2014)
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Lisa Faye You know when things don't go the way you wish they had and you wish you could "go back and rewrite the ending"? I think that's what Toews was doing h…moreYou know when things don't go the way you wish they had and you wish you could "go back and rewrite the ending"? I think that's what Toews was doing here.

At least that's how I read it!
Andrew Garvin Toews touches on a couple hypotheses - inherited trauma, suicide contagion, the empathy burden Elf took on with their suicidal father. But, the thesis…moreToews touches on a couple hypotheses - inherited trauma, suicide contagion, the empathy burden Elf took on with their suicidal father. But, the thesis of the book is that suicide is a disease, as yet poorly understood. Elf has a great life and yet she has overwhelming suicidal ideation - just as people with great lives get cancer. It's a logical question, but frankly it would contradict the point of the book for us to know why she wants to die.(less)

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Average rating 3.97  · 
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Ron Charles
Nov 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2014-favorites
The story of Brittany Maynard, the terminally ill woman in Oregon who committed suicide earlier this month after making her intention public, forces us to consider — or repress — wrenching questions about how life ends. As that discussion continues in homes, legislatures and places of worship, please make room for “All My Puny Sorrows,” by Canadian writer Miriam Toews.

I’ve been in love with Toews since 2004, when she published “A Complicated Kindness,” a wincingly funny story about a 16-year-old
Julie Christine
During a tearful eulogy at a funeral service, a toddler boy wobbles up to the altar and begins to eat his great-grandmother’s ashes from the memorial urn. This scene is so emblematic of this luminous, adorable, wrenching book. Miriam Toews balances perfectly between giggles and sorrow—keeping the reader off-kilter yet never once losing control of her narrative.

All My Puny Sorrows is a tragedy that uses humor to convey a deep sense of humanity. That a novel with suicide as a theme can be rich wi
May 22, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Where does the violence go, if not directly back into our blood and bones?"

I'm not sure what to write about this book. It's equally ironic, sad and humorous. I listened to the audible version of this book, and could really feel the conversational style of the writing. My only regret is the timing.

I knew this was going to be a sad story. I had read this was semi-autobiographical, and touched on themes about Toews's religious upbringing as a Mennonite, as well as the tragic relationships she had
Jun 23, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book hard. All My Puny Sorrows is both incredibly moving and a page turner, because despite so much talk of death, there is so much LIFE in this book. So much painful, magnificent life, and so much love. The book has a pulse, which strengthens and weakens with perfect pacing so you get a little time to breathe before the next plunge into the characters' dilemmas. One of my favourite parts of the book is when the narrator (Yolandi) moves from resignation to anger – flailing, explosiv ...more
Jun 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"I too a sister had, an only sister-
She loved me dearly, and I doted on her!
To her I pour'd forth all my puny sorrows."
-Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Before I even opened this novel, All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews, I expected to be immersed in a world of sadness and of course, that turned out to be true. But along with the sorrow, I was surprised to find a sharp humor as well.... not a laugh-out-loud kind of humor but rather the dry, dark humor that people sometimes develop when trying to cope
Paul Bryant
This novel dares you not to love it. It’s so awfully horribly unremittingly sad yet open-hearted and quirky and forlorn and it wags its tail furiously, all the time. This novel is all about suicide, to be or not to be. In this case, the genius concert pianist sister has opted for NOT TO BE and the narrator is trying to put the case for TO BE. And it’s kind of not a novel either, it’s a the high-end literary version of the misery memoir, like Ugly by Constance Briscoe (her mother sued over that o ...more
Jun 20, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a wonderfully written book. Yet, as well as it was written, it was also a heavy read I had to put down frequently and take a step back from. It's a story about 2 sisters who love each other dearly, Elfrieda and Yoli. And as much as that love runs through the novel, it's not strong enough to defy the feelings of depression and darkness one sister feels, to the point of trying to commit suicide several times. It's Yoli's story and her struggle with guilt for not being able to pull her sis ...more
Elyse  Walters
Dec 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A laughing moment...
Yoli says to her sister Elf that she's a terrible wife ... she tells her sister she cheated on her
husband and is just a whore.
Elf... Being who 'she' is, says... "Haven't I taught you anything"? "there is no such thing as a whore".
I smiled reading this!

Toews writing is' richness.... (deeply satisfying as a reader to be in the care of this author)
A very sad story.... told with tenderness... and spunky style....
starting from the first page...( the fa
Diane S ☔
Apr 24, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The bonds of sisterhood and the struggles of depression and suicide are fully explored in this brilliant story. Yolanda and Elfrida are sisters, originally living in a Mennonite community in the east end. Depression runs in their family, something both Elf and her father suffer from.

It is a novel about love, loss, and living told with wry and ironic humor. Yolanda is a wonderfully flawed and self-deprecating character, trying to keep her sister alive, while managing or not managing her own life
Nov 04, 2019 rated it liked it
All My Puny Sorrows is a beautiful book that I had almost no emotional reaction to: a fact that sort of surprised me (I had been assured so many times that this book would destroy me) and sort of did not surprise me (this seems reflective of the rut I have been in lately with my reading).  I don't know if it was a wrong book/wrong time situation or if it's indicative of something that was actually missing from the book, but I wanted more from this than it gave me, simply put.  Side bar: it does ...more
Jennifer (aka EM)
Jul 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those who've already read at least two books by Toews
Shelves: maple-flavoured
If someone you loved wanted you to help them die to avoid unavoidable pain, would you? If you knew they would find a way to do it no matter what, and that way would be painful, and terrifying, and they would be all alone, would you? If they asked you directly, more than once; if it was the one, single thing they wanted from you and it was within your power to give, would you?

Does the fact that the unavoidable pain is psychological not physical in origin change your mind?

These are the questions
For me this book was amazing. Usually books of fiction fall short for me, and so when I run across one that is superb I want to give it the acclaim I think it deserves. It was a roller-coaster ride. Very, very sad and then when I couldn’t stand another second the author had me laughing.

The humor is ironic. We laugh and cry at today's world. The humor focuses upon our whole contemporary lifestyle. We have made such medical advances and yet our medical institutions fail us. Why? It has to be us h
Larry H
Dec 11, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
So if you're thinking a book called All My Puny Sorrows is going to be a bit of a downer, you're definitely right, but the talent of Miriam Toews is definitely something to behold despite the harrowing nature of the book.

Elf (Elfrieda) and Yoli (Yolandi) are sisters and best friends. Growing up in a Mennonite community outside of Winnipeg, they were tremendously close as they united against the way the community's elders treated women and tried to marginalize Elf's talent playing the piano. They
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Oct 13, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jenny (Reading Envy) by: PW 9/15/14
This book snuck up on me. About halfway through, the emotions felt too real, so I went poking around in the author's life. I hadn't read anything by Miriam Toews before, but apparently her earlier novels are well known in Canada, set in the Russian-immigrant Mennonite communities. This one is about a woman in her 40s, Yolandi, and her older sister who really wants to take her own life. This novel was written after the author's sister killed herself. In their Mennonite community, suicide is a fre ...more
Feb 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: canadian-author
Beautifully told. This is a heartfelt, touching story.
Every page tells a loving story of a wonderful relationship between two close, loving sisters. Their love for each other shines through always. They each wanted only what was best for the other. The agonizing decision comes when deciding what "the best" means and how to define it in a meaningful, caring, understanding way.
Miriam Toews has such grace and stamina. Her love and sorrow for her sister is always present and never once does she fo
Jul 16, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This book was so dreadful, it's hard to know where to begin. I think, not wanting to waste any more time on this book than I already have, I will be very brief here.

I was shocked to find that the book is based on experiences the author has actually had. When I first began reading it, I thought the author must really be stretching and writing about things she had no personal experience of, because of the startling lack of insight and authenticity in the characters' emotional responses. I think t
Will Ansbacher
Nov 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Christ, this is a hard book to read. At once profoundly moving and deeply painful, but still witty, ironic and extremely funny in places.
The narrator, Yoli (Yolanda) sees herself as a middle-aged fuckup who desperately needs her older sister Elf (Elfrieda) -- an internationally-famous concert pianist with what seems like a perfect life -- as her life preserver.

But that’s the irony: Yoli is the survivor, a tough, sardonic and caring woman with a rather chaotic life but not a fuckup at all; for
“She wanted to die and I wanted her to live and we were enemies who loved each other.” This is a powerful autobiographical novel about sisters and suicide. Hard to believe, but Toews even injects humor quite successfully, mostly through Yoli and Elf’s mother and aunt – another great pair of sisters. I enjoyed the peek into the Canadian Mennonite community, and was glad to extend my meager knowledge of Canadian authors in general. This was certainly a cathartic labor of love for the author; as Yo ...more
Apr 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Miriam has become a friend, so I will have to file this under an appreciation rather than an impartial review, but I admired her work long before I met her. She has an inimitable voice that is wise and funny and always unflinching. I’ve seen her described as the ‘queen of voice’ but I think the ‘queen of heart’ is more accurate. In spite of terrible loss in her own family, she has a furious and abiding love of life that is apparent in every word she writes.

This is a book I would have liked to de
Aug 21, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
She wanted to die and I wanted to live and we were enemies who loved each other.

I can't remember when last I read a book that made me feel so sad. Even though the author is very witty and there are many funny scenes, the hopelessness and helplessness of the situation really got to me. Imagine someone you loved, your sister/child/parent, persistently tried to commit suicide and even asks for your assistance with this.
I must admit I've always thought that suicide is something that you wanted to
Jun 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“Every man has his secret sorrows which the world knows not; and often times we call a man cold when he is only sad.”
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

This is the best book I've read all year. The mastery of heart ripping is ripe in this. As someone who suffers from Depression it was interesting to read. The author really lets you see both sides of depression so well. On one hand I was on the families side and furious at Elf for being so damn selfish. Then by the next chapter I would be in Elf's
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Joy D
Yolandi (Yoli) is a separated forty-something mother of two teenagers who writes rodeo-themed books. Elfrieda (Elf), her sister, is a talented concert pianist with a loving husband and no children. Elf has been in and out of mental facilities due to multiple attempts at suicide. Yoli and Elf are part of a lapsed Mennonite family from rural Canada, now living in Winnipeg and Toronto. Their father died by suicide years ago. Their mother tries to help everyone as best she can. Elf is taken to task ...more
Clif Hostetler
Apr 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novel
SUICIDE! There I said it. That forbidden action cloaks this novel with an ominous foreboding that lets the reader know that this book is probably not going to have a happy conclusion. It is the story of the relationship of two sisters, one a self-described "fuck-up" and the other with a well ordered and accomplished life. If life decisions were rational, the sister with the messed up life is the one who has reason to commit suicide. But instead she is the one who spends all her energy trying to ...more
Raised in a Mennonite household haunted by remembers of religious persecution in Russia, Elfrieda and Yolandi are expected to conform to particular expectations for their life and live in a community where people gossip and whisper about the nonconformists. Elfrieda, known as Elf to her family, is a progeny at the piano offering her an opportunity to escape from the insular community and her sister, known as Yoli, an example of someone who is able to leave and live a glamorous, wealthy, and happ ...more
Lori Bamber
May 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: best-of-2014
As a novel, this is a beautiful, readable, mesmerizing book.

As a balm for anyone who has ever lost a friend or loved one to suicide, it is a miracle. The always loving, skillful, funny Toews does something remarkable: she makes it possible to understand how someone can suffer so deeply, despite the absence of physical wounds, that they will even say goodbye to people who they know love them deeply and ceaselessly in order to end their pain.

At the end, the questions I was left with were astonis
Sep 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Ace by: Roundtable
Miriam Toews, wow, what rock was I hiding under? She took me by the hand and held me tight through this amazing tale of love and grief. I laughed and cried my eyes out.
Conor Ahern
I had never heard of Miriam Toews before this month's book club, but we had two Canadians host and that was the theme of the authors they picked. As is the tendency, I went against the grain--most people disliked this book whereas I really enjoyed it. But that's better than the alternative, I suppose.

Right before I started reading this, I resurrected this band that I like. As is my wont, I played only the songs that I like, and played the hell out of them. The band is The Antlers, and the songs
I have read a lot of positive reviews and comments about Miriam Toews’ novels but until now have not read any of them. I now understand why so many people are impressed by her writing. I can’t put my finger on only one or two specific reasons that make her writing special. In All My Puny Sorrows I felt that it was a unique blend of many things that makes her writing exceptional.

The fact that Toews has a wide following both within her home country of Canada and around the world demonstrates how
Robert Sheard
Jul 06, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The story of sisters and one family's struggles with suicide, this book confirms what I already knew from reading Women Talking, that Toews can really write. It's devastating and hilarious in turns. ...more
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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

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