From the award-winning author of A Complicated Kindness comes a heart-wrenching yet wryly funny story about setting out on the road to self-discovery, and finding the strength to survive in the face of immeasurable loss.
Nineteen-year-old Irma Voth lives in a Mennonite community in northern Mexico, surrounded by desert and both physically and culturally isolated from the surrounding towns and cities. It’s been six years since her family up and left Canada to escape the prying eyes of the government and preserve their religious freedom, but Irma still misses the minor freedoms she had in their small town. She even misses the cold. This new life has not been an easy one, and Irma finds herself deserted by her husband of one year, who has left to pursue a life of drug-running, instead of working her family’s farm. The most devastating blow for Irma is that he didn’t take her with him, take her away, so now she’s left to live under her father’s domineering rule alone.
Things change for Irma when a film crew moves into the empty house next door. They’ve come to make a movie about the Mennonite community, and have made a deal with Irma’s father to stay on their land. The director enlists Irma to work for them as a translator, as she can speak not only Spanish and English but Plattdeutsch, or Low German, the language of her people. At first bemused by the ragged and absurd crewmembers, Irma comes to embrace the passion and creative freedom of their world – but in doing so brings on the wrath of her father, who is determined to keep her from it at all costs. When Irma’s thirteen-year-old sister Aggie begins to come by and spend time with the crew, their father is sent over the edge with rage, and Irma is forced to make a hard decision to save not only herself, but her younger sister, and to break the dark chain of violence holding her family.
The girls flee to the city, not knowing where they’ll find food or shelter, let alone build a life, but knowing for the first time that they are free to make that choice. And even as they begin to understand the truth of the tragedy that has their family in its grip, Irma and Aggie use their love as a source of strength to help each other move on from their past lives and work toward a future that can truly become anything they want it to be.
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1. What were your first impressions of Irma, at the opening of the novel? Did they change as the book progressed and you got to know her character?
2. Talk about what Mennonite life is like for Irma and her brothers and sisters, growing up under their father’s strict religious rule, in their isolated...
“There is something quite mesmerizing about Toews’s prose. It’s to do with the rhythm of her language, with the seeming effortlessness of it and, when combined with her quick, offhand wit, it can enliven even the darkest of moments.”
— Toronto Star
“Toews’s ability to generate comedy and heartache at the same time just soars.”
“Irma Voth is wryly funny and perceptive.”
— National Post
“It is beautiful, strange, and fascinating, and readers wise enough to trust in the author’s sure hand will be rewarded with a novel that takes them someplace altogether unexpected.”
— Kerry Clare, Quill & Quire
“A beautiful, heartbreaking novel. . . . Calls to mind Ann-Marie MacDonald’s 1996 epic, Fall On Your Knees.”
— Winnipeg Free Press
“A stunning culture clash between the Mennonite and art communities. . . . The internal conflict over when to reveal hard information, in life or in art, is one of Toews’s key themes. A sequence about how it feels to tell the truth is a knockout.”
— NOW (Toronto) NNNN