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In this stunning coming-of-age novel, award-winner Miriam Toews balances grief and hope in the voice of a witty, beleaguered teenager whose family is shattered by fundamentalist Christianity
"Half of our family, the better-looking half, is missing," Nomi Nickel tells us at the beginning of A Complicated Kindness. Left alone with her sad, peculiar father, her days are spent piecing together why her mother and sister have disappeared and contemplating her inevitable career at Happy Family Farms, a chicken slaughterhouse on the outskirts of East Village. Not the East Village in New York City where Nomi would prefer to live, but an oppressive town founded by Mennonites on the cold, flat plains of Manitoba, Canada.
This darkly funny novel is the world according to the unforgettable Nomi, a bewildered and wry sixteen-year-old trapped in a town governed by fundamentalist religion and in the shattered remains of a family it destroyed. In Nomi's droll, refreshing voice, we're told the story of an eccentric, loving family that falls apart as each member lands on a collision course with the only community any of them have ever known. A work of fierce humor and tragedy by a writer who has taken the American market by storm, this searing, tender, comic testament to family love will break your heart.
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The highly anticipated third novel from one of Canada?s most daring and original writers, A Complicated Kindness is a portrayal of a stifling Mennonite town -- a novel that is at once brilliant, hilarious, and revelatory.
?Half of our family, the better-looking half, is missing,? Nomi tells us at the beginning of A Complicated Kindness. Left alone with her father, Nomi spends her time piecing together the reasons her sister Natasha and mother Trudie have gone missing and trying to figure out what she can do to avoid a career at Happy Family Farms, a chicken abattoir on the outskirts of East Village -- not the neighbourhood in Manhattan where Nomi most wants to live but a small Mennonite town in southern Manitoba. East Village is ministered by Nomi?s Uncle Hans, or as Nomi calls him, The Mouth. A fiercely pious and religious man, The Mouth has found both Trudie and Natasha wanting and has orchestrated their shunning by the community.
At its heart, A Complicated Kindness is the world according to a devastatingly funny and heartbreakingly bewildered young woman trapped in a small town that seeks to set her on the path to righteousness and smother her at the same time.
This town is so severe. And silent. It makes me crazy, the silence. I wonder if a person can die from it. The town office building has a giant filing cabinet full of death certificates that say choked to death on his own anger or suffocated from unexpressed feelings of unhappiness. Silentium. People here just can?t wait to die, it seems. It?s the main event. The only reason we?re not all snuffed at birth is because that would reduce our suffering by a lifetime. My guidance counsellor has suggested to me that I change my attitude about this place and learn to love it. But I do, I told her. Oh, that?s rich, she said. That?s rich. . .
We?re Mennonites. After Dukhobors who show up naked in court we are the most embarrassing sub-sect of people to belong to if you?re a teenager. Five hundred years ago in Europe a man named Menno Simons set off to do his own peculiar religious thing and he and his followers were beaten up and killed or forced to conform all over Holland, Poland, and Russia until they, at least some of them, finally landed right here where I sit. Imagine the least well-adjusted kid in your school starting a breakaway clique of people whose manifesto includes a ban on the media, dancing, smoking , temperate climates, movies, drinking, rock?n?roll, having sex for fun, swimming, makeup, jewellery, playing pool, going to cities, or staying up past nine o?clock. That was Menno all over. Thanks a lot, Menno. -- from A Complicated Kindness
What Nomi Nickel needs most is a bus ticket out of town. For now, however, the rebellious 16-year-old is stuck living with her hapless father, Ray, in a bungalow in East Village — not the hip one in New York City but a smug Mennonite community ruled by her pious uncle, “The Mouth.” Nomi’s sister, Tash, left town a few years ago in her boyfriend’s truck. Soon afterwards, their mother, Trudie, disappeared. Now there’s nothing left but to piece together these mysterious defections and rage against the fundamentalist bullies. Wise, edgy, and wickedly funny, Nomi has wooed thousands of readers with her bittersweet tale of teenaged angst in Mennonite country. Cara Pifko’s narration strikes just the right note of childish bravado and wistful sarcasm.
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