All My Puny Sorrows

All My Puny Sorrows

Book - 2014
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Elfrieda, a world-renowned pianist, glamorous, wealthy, happily married: she wants to die. Yolandi, divorced, broke, sleeping with the wrong men as she tries to find true love: she desperately wants to keep her older sister alive. But Elf's latest suicide attempt is a shock: she is three weeks away from the opening of her highly anticipated international tour. Can she be nursed back to "health" in time? Does it matter? As the situation becomes ever more complicated, Yoli faces the most terrifying decision of her life.
Publisher: Toronto : Alfred A. Knopf Canada, c2014
ISBN: 9780345808004
Branch Call Number: FIC Toews
Characteristics: 321 p


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I seem to love sad and funny books. If you do too, then you must read this book. It is so very sad, dealing with the repeated attempted suicides of a sister and the imperfections of family relationships. However, it’s funny too as families and small towns can be quirky and humorous. Toews’ very skillful writing makes it all feel real. I think she just might be my favourite author ever as I love and highly recommend her other fiction also, especially A Complicated Kindness and A Boy of Good Breeding. (submitted by KA)

Apr 20, 2017

Wittily, prettily written in MORBID fast-paced Gilmore Girls style. All the banter would equate to rollicking fun if it weren't all so unbearably sad. Perhaps I could instead enjoy Yoli's boat book, knowing only that it begins with L.
Lottie drinks life to its lees!
Long life
"We'd had a bit of an argument then because I told him that it was ludicrous to think that we could just talk our way out of shame, that shame was necessary, that it prevented us from repeating shameful actions and that it motivated us to say we were sorry and to seek forgiveness and to empathize with our fellow humans and to feel the pain of self-loathing which motivated some of us to write books as a futile attempt at atonement, and shame also helped, I told my friend, to fuck up relationships and fucked-up relationships are the life force of books and movies and theater so sure, let's get rid of shame but then we can kiss art goodbye too. But now, as I climbed these concrete steps holding my hands and fingers to my nose to check if I reeked of sex or motor oil, I longed for a life without shame."
"I ask her if she wants to play a few rounds of Dutch Blitz, the only Mennonite-sanctioned card game, because instead of sinful-connoting things like clubs and hearts and diamonds and spades on the cards it has ploughs and buckets and wagons and pumps and because it's a game based on speed and concentration, not sneakiness, and the small room glows when she smiles."

Mar 26, 2017

I thoroughly enjoyed Toews’ style of flippant irreverence despite the heart-wrenching subject matter. It’s all about feelings from the point of view of one sister and, although the author doesn’t delve into the ethics of suicide – self-inflicted or assisted, the story line is strong and offers hope for the others in living beyond the grief.

Feb 16, 2017

Reading this book sometimes feels like reading a dream, where thoughts and dialogue are indistinguishable from one another, time shifts between memory and the present, and two sisters are so similar, yet so different. One sister wants to live, one wants to die, yet they both feel joy and pain and share happy memories in the same way. The funny dialogue between the two sisters can make you forget that one of them wants to die, and is what keeps this book funny and optimistic, despite the serious subject matter. Miriam Toews is able to address the issue of mental health, patient care, religion, art and family dynamics with love and compassion without ever falling into sounding preachy or sanctimonious. One of my favourite books and I recommend it.

Oct 05, 2016

This novel reads like a memoir and is in fact heavily autobiographical. Yoli is a single mother of two kids by two fathers, barely makes ends meet but is full of life. Her older sister, by contrast, is beautiful and happily married and a world renowned pianist and desperately wants to kill herself. This is the story of a family's struggle to keep a loved one alive against her wishes. Dark but also quite witty and very smart.

Oct 05, 2016

Miriam is one of my favourite authors. I have read this book three times and have recommended it to all my friends. Miriam doesn't write happy stories but she can find humour in very dark subjects. She also has her own writing style which I find refreshing. She tackles life's ups and downs with a clear eye and complete honesty. Marge

May 23, 2016

Drags somewhat in the middle, but overall impression is of an author who REALLY GETS IT about chronic depression, suicide, living in very different worlds, and how all that interacts with family. Very memorable.

Mar 26, 2016

All My Puny Sorrows is a novel by Miriam Toews. The novel focuses on two sisters, Elfrieda and Yolandi. To Yolandi, Elfrieda has the perfect life, she is a world-renowned pianist, she has a loving husband and she has many who adore her. Elfrieda doesn’t see herself this way and tries countless times to end her life. It is up to Yolandi to desperately try to save her sister, juggle between two cities and try to find true love. This book is interesting, however, very tragic. Miriam Toews captured perfectly the relationship between siblings. This novel is more enjoyable to those who have siblings, because they are able to relate to it more. The writer could improve the book by using a more concise sentence structure. This book has a broad range of audiences who I believe would enjoy this book. In conclusion, I think this book would be best for teenagers and adults as the subject matter would not be suitable for children.
- @BookLover of the Teen Review Board at the Hamilton Public Library

Feb 27, 2016

a book about death that is full of life, sadness undergirded with humour, a family that survives suicides.

I read this book in 2014 and again this month for my book club. I loved it even more the with the second reading. I have read all of Toew's books and watched her in Silent Light. her writing is amazing and heart breaking - tears and laughter on the same page encompassing the messiness of family love.

Kereesa Jan 20, 2016


I don't like reviewing books I didn't like. Especially ones that pissed me off. This had the unfortunate opportunity of being both.

A lot of things bothered me about this book, but I'll try to sum it up in a couple of bullet points:

1-Punctuation. Or, as in none to indicate dialogue. I don't know if the author's editor was drunk, but deciding not to use quotation marks is not only a no-no in my book, but makes the novel seem to be trying too hard to be unique and hipster.

2-The sisters. Or more accurately Yoli's boring blankness versus Elf's (ALSO WHAT IS WITH THE NAMES) annoying self-centeredness and her indulgence in spouting philosophical garbage like an overgrown teenager. I felt sympathy for neither and was annoyed at Yoli for being so in love with her sister when it was obvious Elf didn't want her there. I felt nothing between them despite the author's continued perseverance in telling us about all their shared memories. This is not Yoli's memoir. This is a novel written from her perspective.

3-Random long paragraphs. Really enough said.

All in all, I'm glad my co-workers talked me out of finishing this. I wasted enough time on getting 89 pages in. I didn't need to waste more trying to finish it.

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DBRL_ReginaF Apr 03, 2018

It was the first time that we had sort of articulated our major problem. She wanted to die and I wanted her to live and we were enemies who loved each other.

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