Tag Archives: books set in mexico

Irma Voth by Miriam Toews

People  interested?

Back Cover photo
  • Miriam Toews fans
  • Me – because I met her last week (details below)
  • women who like wry humour
  • those desiring honest and engaging prose

The Book:

Irma Voth, by Miriam Toews is a coming of age story of an eighteen-year -old, old-order Mennonite living in Mexico. Irma’s spirit is restless and she falls in love and marries the Mexican, Jorge.  Consequently she is shunned by her family and community.  Her husband soon tires of her and abandons her. Having lost her family, and now her husband, she is very alone.

In a random, but oh-so-true, twist of plot, a Mexican director shows up to shoot a movie about the Mennonite community. Irma, alone and unhindered by the conventions of her religion, volunteers as a translator for them. Irma is empowered by working with the director and his crew. Without spoiling the plot, I can say that she and her sisters (one of them newborn) end up running away and learning to survive in the big wide non-Mennonite world. As expected, it ends with personal growth from characters and hope for the future.


I love Miriam Toews. I think she’s my hero. I read about this new book in the Globe Reviews section last month.

There is a startling quality to Toews’ work, like hearing a dear friend recount a story that is breaking your heart and giving you hope at the same time. A narrative voice that is miraculous and rare.  

Toews is subtly hilarious (I don’t LOL often while reading, but she does it for me!).  The stories are also simple, realistic and the plot is never “neat.”  However,  I would be lying if I thought that Irma Voth was brimming with new themes and unique characters. I felt like I knew the story even before I started it. But honestly, in a way, I appreciate that too.

I’ve been hitting up some of the literary scene in Hamilton. Last Tuesday night I went to a Random House-sponsored reading with Toews.  Wine and cheese + one of my favourite authors = great evening. Toews has an endearing sincerity and soft shyness. During question time,  I asked her why her characters always leave. She confessed to an entire room of strangers that she felt that escaping and running away from a Mennonite community was formative to her artistry. She joked that she hasn’t stopped “leaving” yet.

Her stories are places where life can change, where someone can feel the connection of the author on the other side of the page.  Toews’ novels have a voice that feels caring and alive. Like a soul speaking to another.

The plot for the book was inspired by a Carlos Reygadas film called Silent Light. I watched this a few months ago and it is  beautifully haunting.  Miriam Toews played a major character in the film.  The film Silent Light, and the book Irma Voth are definitely entwined, sharing themes (and sharing Toews). If you enjoy “artsy” films about interesting places,the Hamilton Library‘s got it!.

Silent Light