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4.4 out of 5 stars
All My Puny Sorrows
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 7 June 2015
So, you're sisters, you grow up together. You're close. You share everything. You're honest with each other. You'll do everything you possibly can for each other. And then your sister asks you to help her commit suicide as, continuing living, is so terribly painful. Ah. Now, That's something different. Or is it?

Elf and Yoli are sisters brought up in a Mennonite community although their parents are rather forward thinking. They support Elf with her musical career and she becomes a classical pianist. Yoli is a bit more staid/stable perhaps; relationships, children. They remain amazingly close. Their father commits suicide (that's a very small part of the story, just mentioned) and mum and, her sister and wider family, are also part of the story but the main characters are the sisters.

Elf ends up admitted to hospital, yet again, having tried to take her own life. She's desperate; she can't bare the pain of carrying on living and asks Yoli to help her end her life.

This is a beautifully written book. It's one of those books that I couldn't wait to read the next chapter and yet, now I've made it to the end, I'm sad that it's over.

It makes you laugh, if makes you cry (well, I did anyway) and you feel that you get to know the sisters but also the rest of the family too.

A wonderfully written book and an amazing read. I will have to explore more of Miriam Toews' books.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 5 May 2015
If you read the general synopsis you'd most likely be expecting a depressing suicide book, but this book is funny and clever and embraces life like nothing else I have read in a long time. Endlessly quotable, this is the first time I have read anything by Toews and I enjoyed this so much I've recommended it to a lot of friends and added her other books to my wishlist. I imagine that this would be a great read for book clubs. Highly recommended.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 28 April 2015
I love the people in this book. They are like no one else. They are intelligent but not pompous and really funny in an original way and they are all very kind. Despite the sad subject it has some incredibly hilarious one liners. I don't think I can do it enough justice with my words. It is exceptionally well written.
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on 22 June 2015
This is a novel about depression, suicide, death, broken families, love and music. Yes, it is sad, but it is also laugh-out-loud in places. Canadian writer Mirian Toews drew heavily on her own experiences in the writing of All My Puny Sorrows, and that depth of empathy shines from every page. Do not ignore this book because you think it will be depressing: it is uplifting, and you will feel sad to finish it.
The story centres on sisters Yolandi and Elfrieda von Riesen. Elf, the elder, is a concert pianist. Yoli writes the Rodeo Rhonda teen novels. Elf’s story – and that of the family of women surrounding the two sisters, their mother, their aunt, Yoli’s daughter, their friends - is told by Yoli. “When we were kids she would occasionally let me be her page-turner for the fast pieces that she hadn’t memorized. Page turning is a particular art. I had to be just ahead of her in the music and move like a snake when I turned the page so there was no crinkling and no sticking and no thwapping. Her words.”
We do not hear Elf’s inner voice except in excerpts from letters and poems. What we do have is Yoli’s contemplation of Elf’s request to be taken to Switzerland to end her own life. No judgements are made although Yoli runs through every gamut of emotion from sorrow to guilt to anger to exasperation to despair. She loves her sister and does not want to lose her, but if her sister is so unhappy then how can she not help her? Is Elf's wish not hugely selfish, does she not care for the feelings of those she will leave behind? Anyone who has been close to someone with a long-term illness will recognise many of the healthcare situations and Yoli’s many meltdowns with medical authority.
It is a sad, poignant book which made me laugh out loud.
All My Puny Sorrows was shortlisted for The Folio Prize 2015 and I totally understand why.
Read more of my book reviews at http://www.sandradanby.com/book-reviews-a-z/
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 29 January 2015
Loved it although took fifty pages to surrender to the story. Very well written and the story unfolds over the novel. Real withdrawal when it was over.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
Miriam Toews has done it again. Her latest book is touching and funny, sad and life-affirming, thought-provoking and nuanced. Drawing on her own personal experience it’s the story of two close and loving sisters. Yolandi and Elfrieda. Elf is a gifted pianist, happily married, but prey to depression and an urge to kill herself. Yoli is committed to keeping her alive. But is the kindest thing, the right thing, perhaps to let her sister go? Perceptive and wise, with totally believable characters, the novel tackles serious issues with compassion and a deep understanding of the complexities of family life and loyalties, the heartbreak of mental illness, and the trauma of suicide and how it affects everyone concerned.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 30 May 2015
With so many reviews mine is pretty superfluous, but this is a great book. It is not judgemental in the slightest. The terrible wish her sister has to end her life is inescapable, from her perspective. Against that she has an intellectual understanding of the pain she will cause to her family but it is of no account against her overwhelming compulsion to kill herself.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 30 May 2015
A seamlessly astonishing novel. I've never encountered anything as powerful shockingly sad and true and doubt that I ever will.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 26 January 2015
Wonderfully written. Harrowing but full of humour which keeps one from being too upset by the story.
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on 21 June 2015
Much of this book is set in hospital wards, corridors and underground tunnels, which trap Yoli, the narrator, just as she is trapped by her sister Elf's desire to commit suicide. However, there is a lot of humour in the telling of this story, which relieves the bleakness of the subject matter. The most positive aspect of the situation is the love between family and close friends, which provides a counterpoint to the harrowing hospital visits, but the last part of the book drifts a little into what seems an unrealistic sequence where Yoli and her mother live happily together in a city slum. One conclusion that the book draws is that if someone really wants to kill themselves this desire cannot be brushed aside, but should be respected as a valid solution to their mental anguish. Yoli gives an insider's view of this argument, anchoring it in the painful reality of a sibling's experience.
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