Release Date: April 5th, 2011
Source: TLC Book Tours
Buy It: Book Depository
Irma Voth follows a young Mennonite woman who carries a terrible family secret with her on a remarkable journey to survival and redemption.Irma Voth was my first time reading a book by Canadian darling Miriam Toews, although A Complicated Kindness was often mentioned when I was in high school, and I was definitely interested in finding out more about her take on Mennonite culture, an issue she is uniquely posed to address because she grew up living it. The novel itself is a complex, although not particularly lengthy, story of its namesake's life. Other characters play pivotal roles in Irma Voth but ultimately everything comes back to Irma and one terrible secret, a hidden guilt she has held onto for many years.
If Irma Voth was judged solely as a coming-of-age story, without the unique context that the Mennonite religion provides (of course this is impossible and purely theoretical), I am not sure how much of a lasting impression it would have made. Irma's position within the Mennonite community is what makes the novel interesting, but oftentimes it felt almost like a crutch. I wanted a story that was slightly more universal in flavour, a little more emotional- like the memoir of her father's life by Toews I read after this book, Swing Low- and a little less rigid.
Neither the characters nor the Mexican setting really came alive for me in this book and the result was a novel which although interesting, felt clinical in its execution. Based on Irma Voth I am unlikely to pick up another novel by Toews in the near future, but her insight into Mennonite culture has caught my attention and after learning more about it in Swing Low I hope that Toews someday publishes a memoir of her own life.