January 06, 2015 at 5:42 AM

We Stand on Guard for Thee

January 06, 2015 at 5:42 AM

In late December, 2014, I wrote a hasty and huffy email to the editor of the New York Times Book Review. It went something like this:

To the Editor:

As an American immigrant living in Canada, I was pleased to read Curtis Sittenfeld’s glowing review of All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews. (November 23, 2014) Your reviewer rightly notes that the fiction of Toews has received significantly less recognition in the United States than in her native Canada.

How ironic, then, that the bi-line of the review conveys a glaring misrepresentation of Canada and the novel itself. “In Miriam Toews’s novel," the bi-line states, "a writer travels to a Toronto hospital to spend time with her sister, who has attempted suicide.”  Nope.

Rather, the main character in All My Puny Sorrows travels from Toronto to a Winnipeg hospital to spend time with her suicidal sister, as was correctly noted in Sittenfeld’s review. Perhaps naming the wrong city in the bi-line was simply an editorial mishap on a busy day. Or perhaps it's symptomatic of a more systemic disinterest in the continent's northern neighbor, which leads to the disregard of Canada's writers in the first place.

It turns out location matters very much in this novel. Toronto and Winnipeg are as different as, well, America and Canada. And in the context of Toews’s novel, in which the Mennonite culture of the family informs many of the exchanges between the sisters, place is everything. Winnipeg in the province of Manitoba is hugely significant. It’s no accident that her sister lay dying in Winnipeg. So let’s acknowledge Winnipeg, the setting for this astute novel and the birthplace of many great cultural voices, many of which belong to women.


Gail Benick, author of forthcoming novel published by Inanna Publications


On the same day, I received this return email:

Dear Gail Benick,

 Thank you for your letter. We made the correction online as soon as we realized it, just after the issue went to press, and we published the correction in the print edition of Nov. 30.


Staff Editor

New York Times Book Review


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