Tag Archives: personal growth

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

Annabel by Kathleen Winter

For Readers interested in:

  • Gender issues
  • Relationships between parents and children
  • Unique coming of age books

The Book:

I finished this one up in a flash! Kathleen Winter has created such an easy and beautiful read, with a heartfelt plot and memorable characters. This book is about a little person born in the late 1960s to a mother and father in Labrador. The birth of this child is a happy occasion, but filled with secrets. This beautiful and perfect child was born ( as is 1-2% of the general population) with gender ambiguity. Treadwater and Jacinta decide to call the baby Wayne, and to bring the child up a male. His vagina is surgically closed, as is this side of his identity.

As Wayne grows, he find himself caught between his mother who is comfortable with his duo expression of sexuality and his father who is not. Wayne’s parents love him very much, but they are unable to help him with his gender confusion, especially as he grows older and has to take hormones to turn his body into a man. Wayne doesn’t fit in with the other boys while growing up.

Wayne learns the truth about his gender in high school. He has to have an emergency operation to clear out menstrual blood from his closed vagina. Wayne feels alone and confused. He leaves Labrador for the mainland and finds a job in St. John’s. Wayne tells his family that he wants to stop the hormone therapy, and let his nature take over, for better or for worse. This frightens him and his father, but it is something Wayne feels he must do.

Wayne starts to become more feminine. An acquaintance notices, and sexually assaults Wayne. He becomes frightened and alone. His father, hears the news of his rape and leaves Labrador for the first time to come and support his son. Treadwater realizes that although he is unhappy that Wayne has stopped his hormones, the love he feels for the person, Wayne, is strong. His father’s love remains constant despite Wayne’s own identity inconstancy.

This book was a good one. I read it quickly, and had a hard time putting it down. I thought Wayne was a beautiful and gentle person. Someone I would love to be friends with. The characters were well-developed and involving.

Kathleen Winter’s strength is in her soft and supple narrative. Winter is also clever, there was often quite a bit of ambiguity in the language used to describe the Labrador landscape. Using intersexuality as a metaphor for her homeland – a between place that can’t be defined clearly. The plot is not for everyone, but I was drawn to it. It is intriguing to contemplate issues of gender. I finished the novel deeply sympathetic for Wayne. I felt like the 2% or so of the population that are born intersex are not treated with respect in our culture.

A book for everyone? Not really. It deals with sensitive gender issues that might make some people feel uncomfortable. But I found it fascinating and reminds me of two other novels I’ve enjoyed with intersexuality themes. One: Middlesex by Jeffery Eugenides which uses the theme of intersexuality to explore the plight of American immigrants; and two: The Last Crossing by Guy Vanderhaege. Thinking about Vanderhaege has made me excited. I think I am going to reread The Last Crossing and review it soon!

Also, I found a great blog for people interested in Atlantic Canadian fiction. Here is a review of Annabel from Salty Ink. It’s a blog that promotes literature set in Eastern Canada.

There are two other books I’ve reviewed set on the East Coast (Cape Breton and Newfoundland):

  1. The Birth House by Ami McKay
  2. February by Lisa Moore. (click on the titles to read them).

Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert

 Who would like this book?

-someone who’s interested in the role of marriage in history and our current culture

-someone who thinks ALL this can be done in a 300-page book

-a hard-core Elizabeth Gilbert fan

I finished Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert in two days. I didn’t find it a particularly profound book. I read it at a time when I needed to hear Gilbert’s message about living in the moment and being content. But all in all, I did enjoyed EPL, thought at moments it was hilarious, and recommended it to several people. The book was also my intro to”travel” memoirs.

Committed is the sequel to Eat Pray Love.

I heard Gilbert interviewed on CBC, and she said that it was difficult for her to write this book, as if her voice could not be found. As someone who “dabbles” a bit with writing, I picked this up in the book almost immediately. Gilbert desires more than anything, for this book to be a different book then Eat Pray Love, which was on the New York Times Best Seller Book list for 187 weeks.  It seems, from the feel of Committed, that she didn’t want to ride on the success of her book Eat Pray Love, and desired to release a different sounding book, but could not. I think that Gilbert does not want to be typecast. Or maybe she just got lucky with Eat Pray Love and couldn’t pull it off again in a sequel. On an incredibly creepy note,  Gilbert is listed as one of the decade’s most influential people by Time Magazine.

The book Committed: a skeptic makes peace with Marriage, is a boring title for a boring book.

In the conclusion of the book Eat Pray Love, Gilbert meets a man who she falls madly in love with. He is Australian/Brazilian and she is American. Gilbert wants to settle in the lovely U.S. of A, but her boyfriend Felipe is denied the ability to enter the US unless she sponsors him through marriage. Gilbert is absolutely, positively opposed to marriage.

So, she wrote Committed to come to terms with forced marriage, and the entire institution of Marriage.

She researches marriage somewhat through history,  and somewhat across cultures to come up with a mental justification, a pretense so she can marry in good conscience. Chapters and chapters of ramblings ensue that include something about motherhood and about pioneers. She concludes ( I assume) that marriage is what you make of it. That it changes with each individual and evolves over time. Commitment means something different in each relationship.

I’m only assuming because I didn’t finish the book.

I am a very STRONG advocate of not finishing books. Life is too short to read books that you think you should read because it was recommended to you, or because you think they are culturally relevant. So this book fell into that category for me. I wasn’t worth my time. I only enjoyed the few parts of the book where Gilbert introduces someone she has met or talked to about marriage. She is a gifted humourist and can paint people vividly.

She pissed me off too, because she said that Alan and I were extremely likely to separate. Well, she didn’t address us personally, but we had the Liz Gilbert divorce factors nailed down:  getting married young, having kids, being Christian, wife with no career (husband with no career yet, for that matter)….   What I can say to Elizabeth Gilbert, who is in her late 30s, is that life is not simply about factors that are met or not met. Marriage is much more complex than that. Maybe she said the same thing, but I didn’t get to that part in the book.


PS. If anyone LOVED this book, please argue with me!


Committed to Marriage
Ah...marital bliss.


One Week Job, by Sean Aikens


  • me
  • someone disillusioned with the job market/ their career/ their life
  • teenagers/university grads who have to start to think about career choices
  • Andrew Keogh

The Book:

Sean Aiken graduated from university with a great education. He’s smart, talented and comes from a loving and supporting home. Young, with his whole life ahead of him, to make of it what he wants. Such freedom. Well, what’s his problem? Why did he write a book about it?

He had absolutely NO idea what he wanted to do with his life. He only knew he didn’t want to waste his time for a pay cheque. He wanted a meaningful career to complement a meaningful life. Sean Aiken did not do what I did. He did not waste his time applying for random jobs that might interest him. Instead, he set up a website and an idea. He wanted to try out a new job every week for an entire year. His hope was that he would get a feel for each job and each field.

He tried some very random things:  being a Bungee cord technician (not sure if that’s the correct title), chucking things out of the Hercs at CFB Trenton (airbase), selling stocks, and making pizza. It was a memorable year.

What Sean discovers, is that there is MUCH more choice then he’d ever imagined.

The book was inspirational, it forced me to evaluate what I am passionate about, what is important to me?

This issue seems to be all my husband and I talk about these days. Both of us are still young (27) and soon our lovely children will require less “hands-on” time. We may start to have the energy to engage in jobs/careers that we feel are significant, rather than just focusing on getting on our feet and paying off that whopper OSAP loan. I think this book would resonate with anyone who is in the same space as us.

A lack-lustre job, if you don’t generally like what you do, is not worth your time. I am starting to FIRMLY believe this, despite what my father’s generation says.

I would encourage anyone to pick up this book, even if they find their work satisfying, because it is a fun read and Sean Aikens calls us to rethink career and lifestyle choices.

My only beef about the book, is I’m not certain I like Sean Aiken. He made everything seem so easy, and maybe for him it was. But we can’t all just not work and, instead, travel North America and try out new jobs. There were a few moments when I felt that he was too spoiled. Like he was lucky. But I shouldn’t be so hard on him.

I think his message is great, but maybe life is not always about finding your passion. Maybe sometimes it is about being a hard stage and coming out of it.  As long as you can evaluate. The most important lesson from the book is that people will take time to evaluate.

Have a look at his website: www.oneweekjob.com

I want to read and write more, more, more!

I love to read.

Unfortunately, reading is a solitary activity (usually).
I want to actively share. I want to actively engage.
So, I will share what I’m reading, and tell you whether it’s worth reading Past Page Ten.

In this way, this stay at home mother of two, this woman of little intellectual stimulation, will stay engaged too.

Reading to my kiddies

Here’s some links to some of the reviews others have liked:
(Click on the titles to read my posts)

  1. Generation A by Douglas Coupland
  2. Anil’s Ghost by Michael Ondaatje
  3. Farm City, The Education of an Urban Farmer by Novella Carpenter