Are you a Miriam Toews fan? Get ready to become one after reading her latest novel, All My Puny SorrowsThe Canadian author who won the Governor General’s Award for Fiction for A Complicated Kindness has made magic again. Her newest novel is a curiously uplifting soliloquy on familial devotion, female friendship, and the struggle to carry on when everything is falling apart.


At the centre of the story is Yoli, a forty-something writer, mother, daughter and divorcee who’s challenges are very real. She’s fighting to keep her beloved sister, Elf, alive. Elf is a brilliant, world-renowned concert pianist tormented by depression whose failed suicide attempts confine her to a purgatorial existence in a pyschiatric ward. She begs Yoli to bring her relief in death—but what is her sister to do?

Despite its seemingly sombre premise, this book has a light side that keeps us hooked. We can’t help but smile at Yoli’s wry observations: Nobody moves away from Winnipeg, especially to Toronto, and escapes condemnation. It’s like the opposite of the Welcome Wagon. It’s like leaving the Crips for the Bloods. We relate to her exchanges with her teens (appropriately, often by text), her wine-soaked conversations with her best friend, and every interaction with her affable, ever-resilient mother. Even more, we feel like we know every character through her descriptions. My mother said I couldn’t tie off grief like a used condom or toss it in the garbage, says Yoli. I asked her what she knew of condoms and she told me she had been a social worker for a long time which is what she always says after surprising us with information we didn’t think she had.

As we read, the novel flows effortlessly between the sisters’ childhood in a Mennonite town outside to their present lives in Winnipeg and Toronto. This rocking in time helps to soothe us through the tragedies they face.

At its heart, All My Puny Sorrows tells the story of resilience—of a woman we feel we know who is at risk of losing what she’s closest to and is trying to find the strength to carry on. Tender and poignant, it is an engaging blend of the melancholy and insight Toews’ is so well known for.

RECOMMENDATION: Dig in and make sure you’ve got time to keep going. Because once you start you won’t be able to stop. You’ll need to know how it ends. 

About the author

Julie Dyer

When she's not shooing her two children outside, Julie Dyer reads, writes, bakes and ekes out the occasional tune on her ukulele at her home in Ottawa, Ontario. She blogs at

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