Thursday, November 10, 2011

Irma Voth

Miriam Toews
Irma Voth

Faber & Faber, 2011

Irma Voth is 19-year-old girl living in a Mennonite commune in a Mexican desert. Mennonites is a religious group that rejects all worldly: things of earth are the enemy of heaven. They often migrate, work hard, and avoid contact with non-Mennonites. Irma's father is an imperious man, he keeps cows. Irma's family: her sister Aggie, two little brothers, mother and father - suddenly moved to Mexico from Canada. In Mexico, Irma meets Jorge, a young man who, among other things, stores drugs at the home. After her marriage to Jorge, Irma’s father banishes her from the house, separating her to the house with her husband in exchange for that Irma and Jorge would help the father with the cows. Already in the opening scene of the novel we see as Jorge moves away from Irma, accusing her of being a bad wife. Irma on the verge of despair: she does not know how to rectify the situation with my husband. Suddenly, the film crew comes to the desert headed by director Diego, planning to shoot in the desert a film about Mennonites. Diego hires Irma in the group as a translator: she knows three languages, English, Spanish and German dialect spoken by the Mennonites. Irma is the responsibility of explaining to the actress Marijke, a German with Russian roots, in German that is required of her by the director or operator. For the fact that Irma works on strangers from the cast, father and other Mennonites despise and hate her.

At first glance it may seem a simple-minded story, but it is actually a multi-layered and fascinating story about eternal values. Toews does this in the first place because she was able to give the main character a unique voice. Irma, both naive and already very experienced, is all the while as if in motion, as well as her thoughts. She's all like the light, but her life has a mystery, and we learn about the death of Irma's sister Katie only in the final. Mennonites are far from the art, and even the arrival of the crew almost does not change anything, because Irma is not involved in the shootings themselves. But the girl herself is artistically by nature. She makes notes in a notebook, in the head plays scenes from the life that can not happen, repeat to herrself fragments of not even books but scraps of letters. And if Irma’s sister Aggie quickly and painlessly flowed into the city life, Irma constantly tortures herself by questions and doubts, which made it quite difficult for her to get away from the old life. Irma in the soul is a Mennonite, unearthly, not of this world, but she lives on earth and have to arrange her life under the earth's rules. That's why it's so hard for her, and her diubts bring misfortune to the others.

The novel is full of unusual and easy humor, especially in that part of the book where the action takes place with the film crew. The clash of two different cultures always leads to comic results. This does not mean that the book is light-weight. In places it is very dark, because conscience does not let Irma throughout the novel, is she actually guilty of something or just feels guilty.

The novel sags a bit after the departure of Irma and her sisters from the desert to the city. The author seemed a bit removed from his character, and we lose the intimacy with the narrator. By the final Toews is very good again: emotions are running high, and Irma will have to make a difficult choice.

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