A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews

This is the story of Nomi Nickle, 16, who is growing up in a Mennonite community in Canada in the 1980s.  Half of Nomi’s family, “the better-looking half” as she says, is missing, leaving Nomi and her dad to eek out a life together having been abandoned by her mum and sister.    Her town is defined by the religion, tourists come to see how they live their lives in the ‘fake’ village which is totally different to how they actually live.  Nomi’s uncle Hans, a.k.a. The Mouth of Darkness is in charge and his word is law in the town, his visits to Nomi and her father can only mean misery and sadness to them.  This is a town where you can be shunned by your family and have to live in a shed at the back of your house and where nobody is allowed to talk to you.   What Nomi really wants is out of there, she wants to leave the life she has and head to New York and live in the East Village where she is convinced she will hang out with rock stars and have a life full of excitement, anything would be better though than carrying on living in East Village where she is now trapped, with the only prospect ahead of her of working at the Happy Chicken farm along with the rest of the town.  Nomi takes refuge in her slightly distant boyfriend Travis, chain smoking, drugs and dreaming.  She is funny, clever and thinks very deeply.  As life quietly slips out of control, her dad selling off the furniture and steadily cleaning up the local dump, Nomi comes to realise what has actually happened to her life and what she must do to take control of her life.

There are hundreds of quotable lines in the book and the characters of Nomi and her dad are so vivid and beautifully written that I was totally engrossed in the book from beginning to end.  The longing of Nomi for her beloved mum and sister, and her father shambling along keeping with the church, unable to stop doing what he knows but desperate to help Nomi is just gut wrenching.  It is indeed a complicated kindness that he expresses.  A wonderful book.  Thanks to Adrienne and Stewart for recommending it and telling me the story of them crying over it in Rome airport.  The book is so funny, so sad, so wonderfully real, it is a book to own.

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