Irma Voth by Miriam Toews
From the back cover:
Nineteen-year-old Irma lives in a rural Mennonite community in Mexico. She has already been cast out of her family for marrying a young Mexican ne’er-do-well she barely knows, although she remains close to her rebellious younger sister and yearns fro the lost intimacy with her mother. With a husband who proves elusive and often absent, a punishing father, and a faith in God damaged beyond repair, Irma appears trapped in an untenable and desperate situation. When a celebrated Mexican filmmaker and his crew arrive from Mexico City to make a movie about the insular community in which she was raised, Irma is immediately drawn to the outsiders and is hired as a translator on the set. But her father, intractable and domineering, is determined to destroy the film and get rid of the interlopers.
I enjoyed this book but I’m having a really hard time knowing what I want to say about it. I have to be honest – I’m not really sure I got it. I’ve also read A Complicated Kindness and was left feeling much the same.
Irma was a likeable enough character but many times I had a hard time understanding her motivation for acting the way she did. I felt she was a little flat, as were most of the other characters in the novel. The only character that was consistent and well developed was Irma’s younger sister Aggie. She ends up playing a major role in the novel and one might argue that she is the main character even though the story is told as a first person narrative from the point of view of Irma – Aggie and her actions drive the whole story.
As the story meanders along some alarming details about Irma’s family are revealed and it is these details that jump the story into high gear. I found this change to be a little jarring. The whole tone of the story and the writing changed. All of a sudden Irma becomes responsible for a whole lot more than just herself and it spurs her into action. She must take matters into her own hands in order to protect her sisters and she steps up. The sense of confusion I felt as a reader may have been intended to mirror Irma’s own feelings of inadequacy in the face of her new responsibilities.
Overall, I enjoyed reading this novel but I still feel like I’m missing something important that the author was trying to share with her readers.
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