Community & Current Events

Book club guide: A Complicated Kindness, by Miriam Toews

Author: Canadian Living

Community & Current Events

Book club guide: A Complicated Kindness, by Miriam Toews

1. Nomi frequently interrupts her narrative to comment on word choice – both her own and that of others. Unreal, party, groovy, two-wheeler, keel, blouse and future are a few examples. What does language represent to Nomi? In what way is her fascination with words informed by her Mennonite upbringing?

2. Nomi describes herself and Ray as "two mental patients just getting through another day." The novel contains many other references to insanity. What elements of a rigidly interpreted Mennonite religion would you say are not conducive to robust mental health?

3. Mr. Quiring appears on the first page of the book then plays a seemingly minor role until the last chapter. How would you describe his presence in the novel – both in terms of the story itself and how the story is told? What does Nomi mean when she says: "You provided my family with an ending"?

4. Nomi has been described as a "latter-day Holden Caulfield." What aspects of A Complicated Kindness make it a coming-of-age story that resonates with readers regardless of their ethnic or religious backgrounds?

5. Of the bloodstain on her wall, Nomi writes: "…every time I looked at it I was reminded that I was, at that very moment, not bleeding from my face. And those are powerful words of hope, really." What role does hope play in the novel? How does each member of the Nickel family experience hope?

6. What is the significance of the book's title? Would you describe the departures of Trudi and Ray as acts of "a complicated kindness"? What other scenes reveal this quality at play?

7. How would you characterize Nomi's style of humour? What function does it serve for her? What passages stand out for you as especially funny?

8. Discuss the symbolic significance of the following images: the ugly black dresses "dancing wildly in the wind;" Trudie's passport in the drawer; the graffiti on passing trains.

9. What is Nomi's vision of an ideal family? How do her views change over the course of the book?

10. It seems that the people of East Village are forced to live a contradiction: the tangible world is false; the hereafter is real. How does Nomi ultimately come to terms with this contradiction? Consider, for instance, her "new religion" as she describes it in Chapter 24.


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Book club guide: A Complicated Kindness, by Miriam Toews

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