Miriam Toews

Portrait Miriam Toews
© Carol Loewen

Miriam Toews was born in the Mennonite town of Steinbach, Manitoba, in central Canada in 1964. After high school she moved to Montreal, travelled Europe, and returned to Manitoba only for her studies. She did her bachelor’s degree in cinematography, and studied journalism in Halifax. She produced numerous radio documentaries, wrote articles for several magazines and, in 1999, she received the National Magazine Award Gold Medal for Humour. Toews’ first novel »The Summer of My Amazing Luck« (1996) is full of humour, and offers an unexpected variety of sites. The heroine is a single, under-age mother on welfare, who joins a flat-sharing community in Winnipeg, where she hopes to overcome the trauma of the death of her mother. In her debut, Toews plays with social stereotypes, and describes in a fresh way the everyday struggles of her figures. Her second book »A Boy of Good Breeding« (1998) is set in a small town in Manitoba, whose rather quirky inhabitants want to maintain its status as the smallest small town in Canada using all means at their disposal. To do so they must keep the population stable, at least until the national holiday, when the Prime Minister wants to visit. Again Toews shows her talent as an extraordinary satirist, and presents grotesque characters in a story full of subtle wittiness. Her non-fiction work »Swing Low: A Life« (2000) is Toews’ memoir of her father, who suffered from depression, a disease people in the Mennonite city of Steinbach at the time did not really understand. It is also a description of her childhood and youth in a religious and rather conservative community. Her novel »A Complicated Kindness« (2004) made Toews internationally known. The plot, once again, is set in a kind of fictional Steinbach. A sixteen-year-old daughter of Russian Mennonite migrants wants to escape from her claustrophobic provincial home, and dreams of meeting Lou Reed in the slums of New York. Toews’ novel includes linguistic references to the Plautdietsch dialect spoken by the Mennonites from Russia. For »A Complicated Kindness« Toews received the Governors General’s Award, the most important Canadian literary prize. She calls her book »a critique, essentially, of fundamentalism and that particular culture of control and punishment «. »The Flying Troutmans«, published in 2008, is a blend of road novel and family drama, and deals in an entertaining, yet serious way with the problems of a broken family. With »Irma Voth« (2008) Toews finally returns to her roots, and tells the story of a young woman, who must learn to forgive herself. Miriam Toews lives in Toronto.

© internationales literaturfestival berlin