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3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 3.00 (7,290 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Miriam Toews Narrator: Miriam Toews Publisher: Penguin Random House Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date: November 2017 ISBN: 9780735274976
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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.

As the novel begins, Nomi struggles to cope with the back-to-back departures three years earlier of Tash, her beautiful and mouthy sister, and Trudie, her warm and spirited mother. She lives with her father, Ray, a sweet yet hapless schoolteacher whose love is unconditional but whose parenting skills amount to benign neglect. Father and daughter deal with their losses in very different ways. Ray, a committed elder of the church, seeks to create an artificial sense of order by reorganizing the city dump late at night. Nomi, on the other hand, favours chaos as she tries to blunt her pain through “drugs and imagination.” Together they live in a limbo of unanswered questions.

Nomi’s first person narrative shifts effortlessly between the present and the past. Within the present, Nomi goes through the motions of finishing high school while flagrantly rebelling against Mennonite tradition. She hangs out on Suicide Hill, hooks up with a boy named Travis, goes on the Pill, wanders around town, skips class and cranks Led Zeppelin. But the past is never far from her mind as she remembers happy times with her mother and sister — as well as the painful events that led them to flee town. Throughout, in a voice both defiant and vulnerable, she offers hilarious and heartbreaking reflections on life, death, family, faith and love.

Eventually Nomi’s grief — and a growing sense of hypocrisy — cause her to spiral ever downward to a climax that seems at once startling and inevitable. But even when one more loss is heaped on her piles of losses, Nomi maintains hope and finds the imagination and willingness to envision what lies beyond.

Few novels in recent years have generated as much excitement as A Complicated Kindness. Winner of the Governor General’s Award and a Giller Prize Finalist, Miriam Toews’s third novel has earned both critical acclaim and a long and steady position on our national bestseller lists. In the Globe and Mail, author Bill Richardson writes the following: “There is so much that’s accomplished and fine. The momentum of the narrative, the quality of the storytelling, the startling images, the brilliant rendering of a time and place, the observant, cataloguing eye of the writer, her great grace. But if I had to name Miriam Toews’s crowning achievement, it would be the creation of Nomi Nickel, who deserves to take her place beside Daisy Goodwill Flett, Pi Patel and Hagar Shipley as a brilliantly realized character for whom the reader comes to care, okay, comes to love.”

This town is so severe. And silent. It makes me crazy, the silence. I wonder if a person can die from it. The town office building has a giant filing cabinet full of death certificates that say choked to death on his own anger or suffocated from unexpressed feelings of unhappiness. Silentium. People here just can’t wait to die, it seems. It’s the main event. The only reason we’re not all snuffed at birth is because that would reduce our suffering by a lifetime. My guidance counsellor has suggested to me that I change my attitude about this place and learn to love it. But I do, I told her. Oh, that’s rich, she said. That’s rich. . .

We’re Mennonites. After Dukhobors who show up naked in court we are the most embarrassing sub-sect of people to belong to if you’re a teenager. Five hundred years ago in Europe a man named Menno Simons set off to do his own peculiar religious thing and he and his followers were beaten up and killed or forced to conform all over Holland, Poland, and Russia until they, at least some of them, finally landed right here where I sit. Imagine the least well-adjusted kid in your school starting a breakaway clique of people whose manifesto includes a ban on the media, dancing, smoking , temperate climates, movies, drinking, rock’n’roll, having sex for fun, swimming, makeup, jewellery, playing pool, going to cities, or staying up past nine o’clock. That was Menno all over. Thanks a lot, Menno.
—from A Complicated Kindness Download and start listening now!


Quotes & Awards

  • “Now comes A Complicated Kindness, in which Toews’ deft hand combines aspects of her previous subjects — love, small-town politics, rigid religious parameters, depression, — and comes up with something completely new. Leslie Beaton Hedley, Calgary Herald
  • A Complicated Kindness struck me like a blow to the solar plexus. Toews, somewhat like Mordecai Richler, makes you feel the pain of her protagonist while elucidating the predicament of her people, always mixing a large dose of empathy with her iconoclastic sense of the ridiculous. When she’s funny, she’s wickedly so. But the book has a dark, disturbing side to it that grows stronger as the story progresses. Pat Donnelly, The Gazette (Montreal)
  • In novel full of original characters…Toews has created a feisty but appealing young heroine…. As an indictument against religious fundamentalism, A Complicated Kindness is timely. As a commentary on character it is fresh and inventive, and as storytelling it is first rate. The London Free Press
  • Toew’s offers up a wickedly funny new voice…. Nomi is wickedly funny, irreverent, intelligent and compassionate. Toews masteres the character’s voice and never allows her own to intrude. Fast Forward Weekly (Calgary)
  • A Complicated Kindness works its way up to a powerful ending through the accumulation of anecdote and detail…. Toew’s sense of the absurd works brilliantly to expose the hypocrisy of fundamentalist kindness, a love in reality all too conditional…. A Complicated Kindness, at its core, is a depiction of the battle between hope and despair … yet along the way we are treated to an unforgettable summer with a heroine who loses everything but it s ultimately able to hold on to life, to a sense of herself, and to maintain her courage and optimism In the face of a world without any guaranteed happy endings. Georgia Straight
  • A Complicated Kindness…looks like a breakthrough…. It is narrated by a deastating ly funny and heartbreakingly bewildered young woman named Nomi. The Bookseller (mcnallyrobinson.com)
  • This book is as good as anything out there at the moment. But don’t take my word for it, take the word of your fellow citizens: It’s hit numerous Canadian bestseller lists…. [T]his is a well-crafted, witty, sardonic and ultimately sad look inside the world of Mennonites as they exist in East Village, Manitoba. Ottawa Citizen
  • From time to time…we are reminded of what we once saw in this cockamamie enterprise. Along comes book that stands out from the crowd. A Complicated Kindness is just such a book…. Miriam Toews of Winnipeg has delivered a new novel that has us all buzzing…. Ray is a wonderful character….Miriam Toews tells her sometimes harrowing, often very funny story with total confidence. You’ll car about Nomi and Ray and you won’t want it to end. I promise…. It’s a very different book, but A Complicated Kindness might be this year’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time. University of Toronto Bookstore Review
  • “The narrative voice is so strong, it could carry the last eventful, least weird adolescence in the world and still be as transfixing…. Toew’s novel is a wonderfully acute, moving, warm, sceptical, frustrated portrait of fundamentalist religion…. The book is fascinating, and resonant, and inexorable… Saturday’s Guardian (UK)
  • A Complicated Kindness is a delight from beginning to end.  The humour might be of the blackest sort ('People here just can't wait to die, it seems.  It's the main event.'), but the cumulative effect is liberating and defiantly joyful. Daily Mail
  • In Miriam Toews' agreeably off-kilter novel, A Complicated Kindness, the sanguineous and sanguine are combined in Nomi Nickel. TLS
  • One of my favourite books so far this year is A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews. ... (A) sweet, sad, hilarious novel ... The voice Miriam Toews has created for Nomi is utterly unique and absolutely convincing, and her adolescence in 'the most embarrassing sub-sect of people to belong to if you're a teenager' is at times painfully funny, and at others just painful. Suzie Doore, Booksellers Choice, The Bookseller
  • Nomi is a wonderful narrator ... Original and poignant, with exquisite tone. Juliet Fleming, Booksellers Choice, The Bookseller
  • Canadian writer's UK debut, the story of a teenage girl growing up in Manitoba in an obscure religious sect, who narrates her story in a lovely voice, fresh and funny. Star Ratings, The Bookseller
  • It is a complicated kindness indeed that gives us this book. Miriam Toews has written a novel shot through with aching sadness, the spectre of loss, and unexpected humor. You want to reach inside and save 16-year-old Nomi Nickel, send her the money for a plane ticket to New York, get her a cab to CBGB's on the Bowery and somehow introduce her to Lou Reed. It might seem an odd metaphor to use about someone who has authored such a vivid, anguished indictment of religious fundamentalism, but Miriam Toews writes like an angel. David Rakoff, author of Fraud
  • The narrator of this novel, Nomi Nickel, is wonderful. She scrapes away the appearances in her small town and offers what she finds in a voice that is wry, vulnerable, sacrilegious and, best of all, devastatingly funny. This is Miriam Toews at her best. David Bergen, author of The Case of Lena S.
  • A Boy of Good Breeding broke unexpectedly through critical armour and caught me at the throat, made me laugh and weep with sad-sweet joy. . . . This novel is tonic for the spirit: a charming, deeply moving, unerringly human story, perfectly shaped and beautifully told. The Globe and Mail
  • The father’s narration she invented, so expressive and powerful in its understatement, comes across as entirely true in the telling. . . . Toews’ novelistic skills (the award-winning comic novels Summer of My Amazing Luck and A Boy of Good Breeding) are richly apparent in her evocative characterizations and in the deft drama of the narrative. Toronto Star
  • Miriam Toews, the award winning Canadian author, embodies Nomi's voice with such an authentic and manic charm that it's hard not to fall in love with her... A Complicated Kindness captures the struggles of a family and its individuals in a fresh, wondrous style. Despite this complexity of family tensions, much of A Complicated Kindness is pleasantly plotless. The looseness of Nomi's worldview, the sometimes blurry nonfocus of it, the unexpected sideways humor, make this book the beautiful and bitter little masterpiece it is. The Believer
  • Poignant....Bold, tender and intelligent, this is a clear-eyed exploration of belief and belonging, and the irresistible urge to escape both. Publishers Weekly
  • Wise, edgy, unforgettable, the heroine of Miriam Toews’s knockout novel is Canada’s next classic. Globe and Mail Books section cover
  • A Complicated Kindness is just that: funny and strange, spellbinding and heartbreaking, this novel is a complicated kindness from a terrifically talented writer. Gail Anderson-Dargatz
  • Why the compulsion to laugh so often and so heartily when reading A Complicated Kindness? That's the book's mystery and its miracle. Has any of our novelists ever married, so brilliantly, the funny — and I mean posture-damaging, shoulder-heaving, threaten- the- grip- of- gravity- on- recently- ingested- food brand of funny — and the desperately sad —that would be the three-ply- tissue, insufficient- to- the- day, who- knew- I- had- this- much- snot- in- me brand of sad? I don't think so. The Globe and Mail
  • Truly wonderful…. A Complicated Kindness is…one of the year's exuberant reads. Toews recreates the stultifying world of an exasperated Mennonite teenager in a small town where nothing happens with mesmerizing authenticity. . . . Toews seduces the reader with her tenderness, astute observation and piquant humour. But then she turns the laughs she’s engendered in the reader like a knife.
    Toronto Star
  • Right away we’re hooked on our narrator’s [Nomi’s] mournful smarts….A Complicated Kindness is affecting, impeccably written, and has real authority, but most of all it is immediate. You — as they say — are there….like waking up in a crazy Bible camp, or witnessing an adolescent tour guide tear off her uniform and make a break for the highway. Quill & Quire
  • “...knockout novel. …There’s leave-taking in this book. But there’s wholeness, too. It is a joy. Jennifer Wells, Toronto Star
  • Delightfully humorous, subversive and naughtily clever. . . . Brava, Miriam Toews. Prairie Fire

Listener Opinions

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Ashley | 2/17/2014

    " Didn't finish the book but from what I read it wasn't my cup of tea "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Heidi Willis | 2/12/2014

    " Toews' coming-of-age novel about a teen girl struggling with her faith in an oppressive Mennonite community is at once funny and heart-breaking. Nomi Nichols is a girl who rebels at every point, dreaming of escaping her small town and the control of the Mouth - her uncle and head of the church. It would be easy to dismiss Nomi as just a kid hell-bent on breaking every rule and ruining her life with drugs and sex and truancy. But when Nomi's sister and mother both flee the town and the church, Nomi is the only one left to hold together the broken pieces of her father's life. She is both bitter and poignant in her dealings with faith, and Toews writes in a way that grabs the heart. The more control the church takes, the more her family spins out of control, and the entire book might easily be summed up in Nomi's words: "I think now I'd call it grief. It's hard to grieve in a town where everything that happens is God's will. It's hard to know what to do with your emptiness when you're not supposed to have emptiness." There are no easy endings to this story, but what Toews leaves Nomi - and her readers - with is hope. Small and fragile and impossibly difficult, but hope nonetheless. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Mew | 1/24/2014

    " sad...sweet...unusual "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Marilyn | 1/23/2014

    " I really didn't get this book--about the only thing I learned is that the Mennonites were started by a guy named Menno Simon. There seemed to be a lot of angry people in this book. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Heather Buck | 1/21/2014

    " The narrative voice that tells the story of "a complicated kindness" is highly compelling. She is sarcastic, honest and intelligent. Life is getting her down in a small western Mennonite town, and no wonder. Things could be better. I felt that the thoughts of a sixteen year old in crisis were very accurately portrayed and that the novel was indearingly funny and human. My favourite of Miriam Toewes works. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Judy | 1/18/2014

    " well written but subject matter was sad. protagonist was like a Mennonite Holden Caulfield. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Ingrid | 1/13/2014

    " Top book for me. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Fran | 1/11/2014

    " Funny and heartbreaking. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Reidjules | 1/4/2014

    " Not my favorite. Interesting to have a behind the scenes look into a colony, but I had to chew through it. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Becca | 11/21/2013

    " This book was so depressing. I am glad I read it but don't read it if you want something happy! "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Johanne | 10/24/2013

    " I was disappointed by the ending of this book. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Lisalou50 | 10/9/2013

    " Small town Canadian fiction, really good. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Tim Rynders | 10/6/2013

    " Really enjoyed the dark witty humor throughout. Quick read. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Erin | 9/30/2013

    " If you are a fan of the plot-driven novel, this is not your book. If, however, you appreciated character-driven novels, no one is better than Toews. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Car | 6/7/2013

    " Not bad... the main character definately was complicated. LOL! I did empathise, but couldn`t relate at all. I was engaged throughout the book, but was not knocked off my feet. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Teddy | 4/28/2013

    " Deeply depressing but ironically funny in parts. I actually rated it 3 1/2 stars. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Susan | 4/20/2013

    " Loved it....quirky, great narrator, dark humour, a must-read. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Lisa | 11/22/2012

    " I have to say I was a little disappointed with this book. It was good, but the way it is written is a little confusing for me. Did manage to finish but not sure I liked the ending..... "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Karen Vastine | 7/12/2012

    " This book is by far the best I've read this year. Miriam Toews's power of description and sense of humor hit the mark. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 reed | 6/19/2012

    " Very entertaining and well-written, but not enough forward movement in the plot to keep me engaged. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Denise | 12/2/2011

    " I have not gotten through much of it, it is ok, just not what i am looking for in a book right now. It is about a high school girl, around the same time I was a HS girl, still gives me angst! It is well written, and I am sure anyone else would enjoy it! "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Jodie | 10/12/2011

    " A compelling story. Had no idea where this was going. Y "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 shelley smith | 8/12/2011

    " interesting story, well written.. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Janet McLarty Fretter | 8/8/2011

    " This book was such a great ride! Alternately hysterical and tragic, a very original voice in this coming of age book. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Tracy Morton | 8/8/2011

    " An interesting look at the life of a Mennonite girl and her family as they battle between their religious teachings and the pull of the modern world. You really get the feeling that this story has been written by a teenager in angst. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Annie | 5/20/2011

    " totally enjoyable - i love the voice of the young girls in a segregated religious community. I want to go slooooow reading this to relish every word. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Kate | 5/9/2011

    " The strength to think for oneself. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Sarah | 5/3/2011

    " A Canadian coming of age story of a girl who's mother and sister leave the family at different times. The reader isn't sure why till the end. It's a rambling sort of story where it's not so much as linear as flashes of memory. It was enjoyable and funny and I didn't want it to end. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Margo | 5/1/2011

    " kind of a downer - I am still worried about the lead character though...hope she finds some brightness and sunshine soon. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Misty | 4/28/2011

    " I was hoping that this book would have more insight into the Mennonite religion as it had promised. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Greg | 4/13/2011

    " Cdn. Author, Governor General Award and Giller Prize Short list. A wonderful story of human emotions and the enslavement of a Mennonite community in Manitoba. I loved this book and the way the author exposed me to Canadiana that I wasn't aware of. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Jon | 4/6/2011

    " So well written and so wise. One of my favorite books I've read this year. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Bryan | 4/5/2011

    " Meh, has potential but, lacks structure. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Carly | 4/5/2011

    " April 6th, 2k11 - so far? I'm only giving this a 3. It doesn't really turn my crank.

    But I'm seeing it through - it's only 3 disks of audio. Something to do while playing some serious jig saw or maajong.


    Finished - and still feel the same way - a 3. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Judy | 4/3/2011

    " I read this quite some time ago and loved it. I am now about to start Irma Voth also by Miriam Toews and apparently a follow on to this book. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Terri | 3/17/2011

    " A beautiful book about a rebellious teen growing up in a stifling Mennonite community. Somewhat Catcher in the Rye-esque. Funny, heartbreaking, adventurous and real. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Heather | 3/15/2011

    " This took me a little while to get into, the rhythm is kind of different and, at times, for me, hard to follow, but I ended up really, really liking it. I don't think everyone would love it (though I know a few who REALLY would), but it's good. How's that for vague? "

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About the Author
Author Miriam Toews

Miriam Toews is the recipient of numerous literary awards in Canada, including the Governor General’s Literary Award and the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize. In 2010 she received the prestigious Writers’ Trust Engel/Findley Award for her body of work.