Irma Voth is a young woman of nineteen; she recently married against her father's wishes, and has even more recently been deserted by her husband, Jorge. Irma lives in northern Mexico, near Chihuahua, and is part of the Mennonite community - a strict religious group which has parallels with the Amish and, like the Amish, is not concerned with material matters or possessions and shuns the modern world of commercialism and consumerism. When a film crew arrives to make a film about the Mennonite community, which angers Irma's father, Irma makes the brave decision to work as a translator for the film director and, in doing so, comes into contact with people who live a very different life to hers.
Irma's father, however, is determined to prevent Irma, and more especially Irma's younger sister, thirteen-year-old Aggie, from becoming tainted by the film crew's modern ways and his behaviour towards his daughters becomes even more unreasonable and abusive than normal. After yet another painful confrontation with her father where he threatens to evict Irma from her home and follows this with physically abusing Aggie, Irma realizes that she can no longer put up with his behaviour and decides to make a bid for freedom. Taking Aggie with her and also her baby sister, Irma manages to escape to Mexico City where she feels they will all be safe. But Irma gradually comes to the realization that you cannot escape your past and that to move forward there are some things that must be faced and dealt with.
Miriam Toews is, I understand, one of Canada's most celebrated writers; she is also an actress and I would imagine that she has used her experience in the film industry to inform her writing for the first part of this novel; but it was not the first part of the novel that I found the most interesting - it was the second part where Irma struggled to cope with a difficult teenager and a very small baby in a strange city, which was more involving - if not entirely convincing. I found this book a little difficult to rate fairly as I had mixed feelings towards it; it's fresh, quirky, drily humorous and, in some ways, quite compelling, but I can appreciate that not everyone will find this a satisfying read. A friend, who was eager to read this immediately I had finished it, commented that the style of writing was difficult to 'get into', she found the first part of the story slow and she found the short sentences and lack of proper punctuation made for a confusing read. I do understand her reservations but I found that once I had acclimatized to Toews style of writing, this book made for an interesting, original and quite poignant, if not wholly convincing read.