A Complicated Kindness | Miriam Toews

The cover of A Complicated Kindness by Miriam ToewsNomi Nickel is a sixteen year rebel recovering from the religious indoctrination of “The Mouth,” the preacher in her small Mennonite community. Against the backdrop of a future snapping the heads of chickens at the local slaughterhouse, Nomi explores her family life and future in this fictional memoir.

Over the course of the book, you learn why her mother Trudy and sister Tash are missing. If there’s a plot, it’s the mystery of Nomi’s broken family.

The best element of this book is Nomi’s dark and ironic sense of humour. I found myself giggling more than once while reading. Take this reflection on her Mennonite heritage, for example:

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, jewelry, playing pool, going to cities, or staying up past nine o’clock. That was Menno all over. Thanks a lot, Menno.

Don’t read this book for a plot—it drifts back and forth in history as Nomi reflects on the events that formed her character. In the end, the book’s resolution came as a surprise—I had to reread the page to make sure I followed what was happening.

A Complicated Kindness is a dark and funny reflection on small town religiosity and its consequences.

—Miriam Toews, A Complicated Kindness (Toronto, ON: Vintage Canada:, 2004).

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