Books like All My Puny Sorrows

All My Puny Sorrows

2014, Miriam Toews


All My Puny Sorrows is the sixth novel by Canadian writer Miriam Toews. The novel won the 2014 Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize, and was shortlisted for the 2014 Scotiabank Giller Prize, the 2015 Folio Prize for Literature, and the 2015 Wellcome Book Prize. Toews has said that the novel draws heavily on the events leading up to the 2010 suicide of her sister, Marjorie.

The novel recounts the tumultuous relationship of the Von Riesen sisters, Elfrieda and Yolandi, the only children of an intellectual, free-spirited family from a conservative Mennonite community. Yolandi, the novel's narrator, has always lived in her sister's shadow: whereas Elfrieda is a gifted, beautiful, happily married, and much celebrated concert pianist, Yolandi is something of a failure, with a floundering writing career and teenage children from separate fathers. Yet it is Elfrieda who suffers from acute depression and a desire to die, much like her father before her, who killed himself by stepping in front of a train. When Elfrieda makes a second suicide attempt on the eve of an international concert tour, Yolandi makes it her mission to save her sister, even as Elf begs her to accompany her to a Swiss clinic and enable her death. Yolandi writes: "She wanted to die and I wanted her to live and we were enemies who loved each other."

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