Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 279
Miriam Toews’s novel A Complicated Kindness communicates classic themes of a coming-of-age story but within the specific backdrop of the fictional Canadian Mennonite community of East Village.
Toews’s descriptions of this town ring true, as she drew on her own background growing up in a similar place. She says the way she portrayed “the emphasis in the town on punishment and shame, and joylessness, that degree of severity and intolerance” was based largely on her own experience. The events of the story, however, are fictionalized.
The sixteen-year-old protagonist, Nomi Nickel, develops over the course of the story. She looks back at her innocence at age thirteen when her sister, Tash, then mother, Trudie, left the family and religious community; reflects on the three years since as she and her father cope (less than successfully) with their absence; and looks ahead with dissatisfaction at the suffocating future she can expect if she is to stay in East Village. Nomi wrestles with loyalty to her father, who she feels obligated to take care of, and aspiration for the type of life she really wants.
Typical to coming-of-age stories, Nomi turns a critical eye toward the adults in her life, including her father and her uncle, the cold, authoritative pastor of the church. She eventually discovers the reason behind her mother’s leaving: that she had had an affair with Mr. Quiring, Nomi’s teacher, and feared the prospect of excommunication and being shunned.
While the details of the story may be unique to this religious community, the broad story of a young adult defining her identity, questioning authority, and deciding what she wants in life are relatable for anyone.
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