Lives Lived, Lives Imagined

Landscapes of Resilience in the Works of Miriam Toews

Sabrina Reed (Author)


Perceptive, controversial, topical, and achingly funny, Miriam Toews’s books have earned her a place at the forefront of Canadian literature. In this first monograph on Toews’s work, Sabrina Reed examines the interplay of trauma and resilience in the author’s fiction.

Reed skillfully demonstrates how Toews situates resilience across key themes, including: the home as both a source of trauma and an inspiration for resilient action; the road trip as a search for resolution and redemption; and the reframing of the Mennonite diaspora as an escape from patriarchal oppression. The deaths by suicide of Toews’s father and sister stand out as the most shocking and tragic of the author’s biographical details, and Reed explores Toews’s use of autofiction as a reparative gesture in the face of this trauma.

Written in an accessible style that will appeal to both scholars and devotees of Toews’s work, Lives Lived, Lives Imagined is a timely examination of Toews’s oeuvre and a celebration of fiction’s ability to simultaneously embody compassion and anger, joy and sadness, and to brave the personal and communal oppressions of politics, religion, family, society, and mental illness.


"Lives Lived, Lives Imagined is a welcome and important addition to scholarship on Canadian literature. It is a clearly written and well-researched study that demonstrates how Toews exposes and resists oppressive systems and regimes—religious, patriarchal, and colonial. This book is highly relevant and timely in today’s world."

Laura Davies, Red Deer College

“In this thorough, detailed monograph on the work of Miriam Toews, Sabrina Reed looks at the Manitoba-born writer’s recurring theme of resilience and the ways it plays out across her fiction. Reed covers a lot of ground, and her writing is admirably clear. She works with complex and difficult issues and ideas without resorting to jargon, making Lives Lived, Lives Imagined an important piece of scholarship that is also accessible to general readers.”

Alison Gillmor, Winnipeg Free Press

“Reed explores Toews’s novels in a nuanced, thorough manner… It was a joy to enter each of Toews’s novels’ worlds again. I have Sabrina Reed to thank for that.”

Mary Ann Loewen, Mennonite Historian

"An indispensable resource for students, scholars, and general readers who wish to delve more deeply into the themes and contexts of [Miriam Toews'] nine (to date) novels. Readers of Miriam Toews and those who would understand the significance of her work will benefit tremendously from reading Sabrina Reed's Lives Lived, Lives Imagined for its in-depth analysis as well as for its excellent bibliography."

Ann Hostetler, Mennonite Quarterly Review

About the Author

Sabrina Reed is a professor in the Department of English, Languages and Cultures at Mount Royal University. She researches in the areas of Canadian Literature and Critical Disability Studies.

Table of Contents

Ch 1: Home is Where the Hope Is? A Complicated Kindness and A Boy of Good Breeding

Ch 2: “On the Road” (With Children): The Flying Troutmans and Summer of My Amazing Luck

Ch 3: “All trauma presents a choice”: Irma Voth and Women Talking

Ch 4: “Coming for to carry me home”: Autofiction and Reparation: Swing Low: A Life and All My Puny Sorrows

Epilogue: The Fight Against the Night: Fight Night