Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Irma Voth by Miriam Toews
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 for 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 soon 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. His action sets Irma on an irrevocable path toward something that feels like freedom.
It only took a few pages for me to be completely hooked by this compelling novel- the spare prose and complicated characters make for a wonderful read. The story is told from the point of view of Irma, a 19 year old Mennonite girl in Mexico haunted by family secrets and the decisions she has made in life. When a strange film crew shows up to make a movie about her community, Irma is catapaulted into a new reality, one where she has new choices to make which have far-reaching consequences.
Watching Irma's torment as she tries to come to terms with her relationships with family and with God, I was unable to put this book down. The writing is bare bones which is disconcerting at first but quickly come to highlight the spare lifestyle Irma lives within the confines of her community. As the story of her past unfolds, it is impossible not to feel for Irma as she tries to correct her mistakes.