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A Complicated Kindness

A Complicated Kindness

Overview
A Complicated Kindness is a novel by Canadian
Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

 author Miriam Toews
Miriam Toews
Miriam Toews is a Canadian writer of Mennonite descent. She grew up in Steinbach, Manitoba and has lived in Montreal and London, before settling in Winnipeg, Manitoba. She moved to Toronto in 2009....

.

Originally published in 2004 by Knopf Canada, it was the winner of the Governor General's Award
2004 Governor General's Awards
The nominees for the 2004 Governor General's Awards for Literary Merit were announced on October 26. The children's literature winners were announced on November 15, and the other winners were announced on November 16...

 for English Fiction, and was nominated for the Giller Prize
Scotiabank Giller Prize
The Scotiabank Giller Prize, or Giller Prize, is a literary award given to a Canadian author of a novel or short story collection published in English the previous year, after an annual juried competition between publishers who submit entries...

. It spent over a year on the Canadian bestseller lists. East Village, the town in the novel, is generally considered to be a fictionalized version of Toews' hometown of Steinbach
Steinbach, Manitoba
Steinbach is a city of approx. 13,500 people in the southeast corner of the province of Manitoba, Canada, a short distance from the capital Winnipeg. Steinbach is the largest community in the Eastman region of Manitoba. The city is located in the R.M. of Hanover and bordered to the east by the R.M...

, Manitoba
Manitoba
Manitoba is a Canadian prairie province with an area of . The province has over 110,000 lakes and has a largely continental climate because of its flat topography. Agriculture, mostly concentrated in the fertile southern and western parts of the province, is vital to the province's economy; other...

.

The novel is told as a memoir of the fictitious character Nomi Nickel, a teenage girl embarrassed by her heritage who longs to escape to New York City
New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...

 to hang out with Lou Reed
Lou Reed
Lewis Allan "Lou" Reed is an American rock musician, songwriter, and photographer. He is best known as guitarist, vocalist, and principal songwriter of The Velvet Underground, and for his successful solo career, which has spanned several decades...

.
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Encyclopedia
A Complicated Kindness is a novel by Canadian
Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

 author Miriam Toews
Miriam Toews
Miriam Toews is a Canadian writer of Mennonite descent. She grew up in Steinbach, Manitoba and has lived in Montreal and London, before settling in Winnipeg, Manitoba. She moved to Toronto in 2009....

.

Originally published in 2004 by Knopf Canada, it was the winner of the Governor General's Award
2004 Governor General's Awards
The nominees for the 2004 Governor General's Awards for Literary Merit were announced on October 26. The children's literature winners were announced on November 15, and the other winners were announced on November 16...

 for English Fiction, and was nominated for the Giller Prize
Scotiabank Giller Prize
The Scotiabank Giller Prize, or Giller Prize, is a literary award given to a Canadian author of a novel or short story collection published in English the previous year, after an annual juried competition between publishers who submit entries...

. It spent over a year on the Canadian bestseller lists. East Village, the town in the novel, is generally considered to be a fictionalized version of Toews' hometown of Steinbach
Steinbach, Manitoba
Steinbach is a city of approx. 13,500 people in the southeast corner of the province of Manitoba, Canada, a short distance from the capital Winnipeg. Steinbach is the largest community in the Eastman region of Manitoba. The city is located in the R.M. of Hanover and bordered to the east by the R.M...

, Manitoba
Manitoba
Manitoba is a Canadian prairie province with an area of . The province has over 110,000 lakes and has a largely continental climate because of its flat topography. Agriculture, mostly concentrated in the fertile southern and western parts of the province, is vital to the province's economy; other...

.

The novel is told as a memoir of the fictitious character Nomi Nickel, a teenage girl embarrassed by her heritage who longs to escape to New York City
New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...

 to hang out with Lou Reed
Lou Reed
Lewis Allan "Lou" Reed is an American rock musician, songwriter, and photographer. He is best known as guitarist, vocalist, and principal songwriter of The Velvet Underground, and for his successful solo career, which has spanned several decades...

. At the end of the book it is revealed that she has addressed the memoir to Mr Quiring, one of her school teachers.

A Complicated Kindness was chosen for inclusion in Canada Reads 2006
Canada Reads
Canada Reads is an annual "battle of the books" competition organized and broadcast by Canada's public broadcaster, the CBC.-Overview:During Canada Reads, five personalities champion five different books, each champion extolling the merits of one of the titles. The debate is broadcast over a series...

, where it was championed by singer-songwriter
Singer-songwriter
Singer-songwriters are musicians who write, compose and sing their own musical material including lyrics and melodies. As opposed to contemporary popular music singers who write their own songs, the term singer-songwriter describes a distinct form of artistry, closely associated with the...

, poet
Poetry
Poetry is a form of literary art in which language is used for its aesthetic and evocative qualities in addition to, or in lieu of, its apparent meaning...

 and publisher
Publishing
Publishing is the process of production and dissemination of literature or information—the activity of making information available to the general public...

 John K. Samson
John K. Samson
John Kristjan Samson is a musician from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. He is a singer-songwriter and currently the frontman of the Canadian folk punk band The Weakerthans...

. It won the competition.

Plot overview


The novel is told in the style of a memoir and is not fully chronological; therefore there is no classical plot line. The most present-day events detail the involvement of the main character, Nomi, with Travis, whereas she also explores her past and how her family came to be so fragmented.

It is revealed that Nomi's sister, Tash, was excommunicated and left town during her late teens, with her boyfriend, Ian. Tash had become an atheist and her rebellious spirit was not satisfied with the limits of the Mennonite
Mennonite
The Mennonites are a group of Christian Anabaptist denominations named after the Frisian Menno Simons , who, through his writings, articulated and thereby formalized the teachings of earlier Swiss founders...

community. Seven weeks later, Trudie, Nomi and Tash's mother, is also excommunicated and leaves town to spare Ray, her husband and the girl's father, the agony of choosing between her and the church. Nomi speculates that Trudie left her with Ray because Ray needs Nomi more than Trudie does. She also speculates that Trudie knew Ray would not be able to choose between her (Trudie) and the church and therefore she left to make it simpler for him.

With Travis, Nomi becomes more rebellious; she spends most of her time trying to get high and eventually begins to take oral contraceptives and loses her virginity. She stops going to school and church. At the end of the novel, Nomi is excommunicated for setting a fire, and Ray leaves town because he realizes that Nomi wouldn't have the heart to leave him, and therefore must leave so that Nomi would be free to do the same. It can also be interpreted as a suicide on the part of Ray.

Major characters

  • Naomi "Nomi" Nickel – The protagonist. She is sixteen years old, living in a Mennonite town. Her name is actually Naomi, but her sister, Tash, could not pronounce it and called her Nomi instead.
  • Raymond "Ray" Nickel – Nomi's father and the family member that has not left town. Ray is quiet and rather reserved.
  • Natasha "Tash" Dawn Nickel – Nomi's older sister. She left town with Ian, her boyfriend. She is an atheist and was excommunicated.
  • Gertrude "Trudie" Dora Nickel – Nomi's mother. She left town seven weeks after Tash, after being excommunicated herself.
  • Travis – Nomi's boyfriend.
  • Hans "The Mouth" Rosenfeldt – Nomi's uncle, her mother's older brother. He is also the church minister and is a powerful, controlling presence in the community.
  • Lydia "Lids" Voth – Nomi's good friend, a Christian girl. She is stuck in the hospital for an unknown, fatal disease. She is eventually moved to a mental hospital.