Canada Reads·Canadian

A Complicated Kindness

Miriam Toews' novel is the story of a rebellious teenage girl growing up in a small Mennonite village.

Miriam Toews

Sixteen-year-old Nomi Nickel longs to hang out with Lou Reed and Marianne Faithfull in New York City's East Village. Instead she's trapped in East Village, Manitoba, a small town whose population is Mennonite: "the most embarrassing sub-sect of people to belong to if you're a teenager." East Village is a town with no train and no bar whose job prospects consist of slaughtering chickens at the Happy Family Farms abattoir or churning butter for tourists at the pioneer village. Ministered with an iron fist by Nomi's uncle Hans, a.k.a. The Mouth of Darkness, East Village is a town that's tall on rules and short on fun: no dancing, drinking, rock 'n' roll, recreational sex, swimming, make-up, jewellery, playing pool, going to cities or staying up past nine o'clock. (From Vintage Canada

A Complicated Kindness won the Governor General's Literary Award for fiction, and was a finalist for the Giller Prize. The book won Canada Reads in 2006, when it was championed by John K. Samson.

Read an excerpt | Author interviews | More about this book

From the book

Now my dad, you know what he says in the middle of those long evenings sitting in our house on the highway? He says: Say, Nomi, how about spinning a platter. Yeah, he uses those exact butt-clenching words. Which means he wants to listen to Anne Murray singing "Snowbird," again. Or my old Terry Jacks forty-five of "Seasons in the Sun." I used to play that song over and over in the dark when I was nine, the year I really became aware of my existence. What a riot. We have a ball. Recently, Ray's been using the word stomach as a verb a lot. And also the word rally. We rally and we stomach. Ray denied it when I pointed it out to him. He says we're having a good time and getting by. Why shouldn't he amend? He tells me that life is filled with promise but I think he means the promise of an ending because so far I haven't been able to put my finger on any other. If we could get out of this town things might be better but we can't because we're waiting for Trudie and Tash to come back. It's been three years so far. My period started the day after Trudie left which means I've bled thirty-six times since they've been gone.


From A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews ©2004. Published by Vintage Canada.

Author interviews

Author Miriam Toews discusses her new book A Complicated Kindness. 19:36

More about this book

Miriam Toews' A Complicated Kindness takes the prize after some heated debate in Canada Reads 2006. 26:35
Her story for the CBC/NFB Hyperlocal project, "My Hometown." 5:12