Author: Miriam Toews.
Publisher: Faber & Faber.
A Complicated Kindness (2004) follows the everyday lives of Nomi Nickel and her father, who live in a Mennonite community, as they deal with living under laws that limit contact with the modern world.
Nomi’s mother and older sister have already left the community and become part of mainstream American society. She and her father, however, have remained. Nomi must deal with her ambivalent feelings of wanting to stay for her father, and wanting to escape to New York City and enjoy all that life has to offer. The novel explores her feelings of entrapment in her community both physically, with the town’s borders, but also superficially with the community’s adoption of 18th century lifestyle such as clothing, lack of modern technology, etc.
There are references to the outside world, for example, through music. This motif cleverly highlights Nomi’s desire to engage herself in pop culture, experience life, and see the outside world. The community is described quite well, from the religious leaders, to the conservative townsfolk and the reenactments of old ways of life for tourists. Although Nomi feels trapped, she has a witty outlook on everything so there is a tone of humour running throughout the book, which helps to engage readers.
It is a well written story about feeling trapped within a community and the desire to see beyond the borders of a limited social sphere. There is a slight lack of plot, but, arguably, this suggests how Nomi’s community has stopped being exciting for her and she needs to seek life elsewhere. The novel provides an insight into the lives of Mennonites and the struggles that some go through. Nomi’s narrative is a wonderful reminder that sometimes you have to make your own way in life.