Swing Low

Swing Low : A Life

4.09 (878 ratings by Goodreads)
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"Audacious, original and profoundly moving . . . . Healing is a likely outcome of a bookimbued with the righteous anger, compassion and humanity of Swing Low."--Globe and Mail (Canada)

Reverberatingwith emotional power, authenticity, and insight, Swing Low isMiriam Toews' daring and deeply affecting memoir ofher father's struggle with manic depression in a small Mennonite community inrural Canada. Personal and touching, a stirring counterpart to her novel IrmaVoth and reminiscent of works by Susan Cheever, Gail Caldwell, Mary Karr, and Alexandra Styron, Swing Low is an elegiacode to a difficult life by an author drawing from the deepest well of insight, craft, and emotion.
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Product details

  • Paperback | 228 pages
  • 132.08 x 200.66 x 22.86mm | 272.15g
  • New York, NY, United States
  • English
  • Reprint
  • 0062070169
  • 9780062070166
  • 942,975

Review quote

The magic of Swing Low is that Toews makes a life that looked ordinary, even grindingly so, seem exalted. --Maria Russo, New York Times Book Review"
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Flap copy

After her father took his own life in 1998, Miriam Toews decided to face her confusion and pain straight on. In writing her father's memoir, she was motivated by two primary goals: For her own sake, she needed to understand, or at least accept, her father's final decision. For her father's sake, she needed to honour him, to elucidate his life and to demonstrate its worth.
Apart from its brief prologue and epilogue, Swing Low" is written entirely from Mel Toews's perspective. Miriam Toews has her father tell his story from bed as he waits in a Steinbach hospital to be transferred to a psychiatric facility in Winnipeg. Mel turns to writing to make sense of his condition, to review his life in the hope of seeing it more clearly. He remembers himself as an anxious child, the son of a despondent father and an alcoholic mother, who never once made him feel loved. At seventeen he was diagnosed with manic depression (now known as bipolar disorder). His psychiatrist's predictions were grim: Mel shouldn't count on marrying, starting a family or holding down a job. With great courage and determination, Mel went on to do all three: he married his childhood sweetheart, had two happy daughters and was a highly respected and beloved teacher for forty years.
Although Mel was able to keep his disorder hidden from the community, his family frequently witnessed his unravelling. Over the years this schism between his public and private life grew wider. An outgoing and tireless trailblazer at school, he often collapsed into silence and despair at home. Ironically, in trying to win his family's love through hard work and accomplishments, he deprived them of what they yearned for most: his presence, his voice. Once he retired from teaching - "the daily ritual of stepping outside himself" - Mel lost his creative outlet and, with it, his hope.
In the "Globe and Mail, author Moira Farr described "Swing Low as "audacious, original and profoundly moving." She added: "Getting into the head of your own father - your own largely silent, mentally ill father, who killed himself - has to be a kind of literary high-wire act that few would dare to try.... Healing is a likely outcome of a book imbued with the righteous anger, compassion and humanity of Swing Low."
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Back cover copy

One morning, Mel Toews put on his coat and hat, walked out of town, and took his own life. A loving husband and father, a faithful member of the Mennonite church, and an immensely popular schoolteacher, Mel was a pillar of his close-knit community. Yet after a lifetime of struggling with bipolar disorder, he could no longer face the darkness that clouded his world. In this moving meditation on illness, family, faith, and love, Mel's daughter, critically acclaimed novelist and reporter Miriam Toews, recounts her father's life as he would have told it, in his own voice, right up to the day of his final walk.

Swing Low is a bold, gracefully written, and compassionate recounting of one man's heartbreaking battle with depression.
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Rating details

878 ratings
4.09 out of 5 stars
5 37% (326)
4 41% (360)
3 17% (149)
2 4% (36)
1 1% (7)
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