All My Puny Sorrows

A quasi-autobiographical novel, All My Puny Sorrows reflects the relationship between Miriam Toews (Swing Low) and her older sister, who committed suicide at age 51 in 2010. Sisters Yolandi and Elfrieda grew up in a Mennonite community where the elders disapproved of the girls' independence and spirit, threatening to punish their father with a short excommunication for letting Elf have a piano.

Now that the sisters are grown and separated from that community, Yoli's life is a mess: two divorces, her teenaged offspring wreaking havoc on her patience, her teen fiction series on hold while she toils ineffectually at a more literary manuscript. By comparison, Elf's life looks perfect. She's a world-famous pianist, her husband adores her, and she's wealthy and glamorous. However, Elf keeps attempting suicide and landing in psychiatric facilities, and Yoli is the one determined to keep her alive.

Yoli tries valiantly to shoulder her sisterly responsibilities, traveling from Toronto to Elf's side in Winnipeg after each attempt. When Elf asks Yoli to take her to Switzerland, where assisted suicide is legal, Yoli must decide just how far her responsibility extends, and in which direction: saving her sister's life and hoping for her recovery, or helping end her suffering.

Toews captures perfectly the conflict between a family wondering why their love isn't enough and the suicidal woman whose suffering cannot be helped by their care. Yet in the midst of so much sorrow, Toews manages to illuminate moments of joy, hilarity and sheer emotion that will leave readers weak in the knees. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

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