An author from Steinbach is getting attention around the world for his first book, “Pinching Zwieback,” a collection of short stories that were inspired by lived experiences. 

It was only published in October 2023 and Mitchell Toews is already getting noticed by readers across Canada and overseas. 

He says the short stories in this collection are fictional, inspired by real experiences. 

“And the reaction has been strong,” Toews reports. “I’ve been on the McNally Robinson Best Seller list several times, three separate weeks. I was also on a cross-Canada best seller list for indie books sold by independent book shops.” 

Even though the book is still fairly new, Toews is already hearing from readers in other countries who are able to relate to many of his fictional stories. 

“There is a translator working on a translation of Pinching Zwieback in Farsi, a writer from Iran feels that the stories were relatable to the people in his country, just as they would be for people in in Manitoba.” 

What makes these stories so relatable? Toews says these are everyday accounts of life events that realistically could have happened in any small community. 

“It is fiction, but at the same time it is based on things that happened to me and that happened to friends of mine.” 

Toews smiles while sharing a quote from Albert Camus, author of The Stranger, who said, “Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth.” 

“Fiction allows us cover to talk about things that are perhaps sensitive or that are difficult to express without that little bit of camouflage that fiction gives, and it allows the story to blossom a little bit better sometimes, too,” Toews says. “And it's also cathartic for the author.” 

Writing these stories has been a labour of love and a dream come true for Toews. 

“I always liked writing. In school, that was one of the things that came a little bit easier for me. I had to work hard at math, but the writing came a little bit easier. And I wanted to be a writer when I was young, when I was a teenager. But two things got in the way. And one was my urgent desire to get a mortgage and get married and have kids,” he chuckles. “I thought that writing and the artistic side of me was going to be a tough way to make a living.”

Mitchell Toews reading from his book.Mitchell Toews read a short story at the author reading event, about a winter toboggan experience for a married couple with a young child. The book cover includes a description as "Made-up Stories from the Darp." Words like Zwieback (twice-baked bread is the literal translation, but the one Toews refers to is the soft "double bun" served at funerals, weddings, and faspa) and Darp (village) are sprinkled into the stories, with a glossary to help readers learn a little German while they are whisked away to a place and time that exists in the author's imagination.

Toews decided to set his writing dreams aside with full intentions to pick it up again later in life. 

“And so, 40 years peeled by pretty quick and when I was 60, I said, ‘Well, if you're going to do it, you better get on it.’ And so that's what I did.” 

When he retired in 2016, Toews did not waste time. He started writing and connecting with people in the industry, finding a team who would help guide him toward his dream of becoming a published author. Toews appreciates the support from his publisher, At Bay Press of Winnipeg.

Although there are names of people and places familiar to people in Steinbach, Toews is quick to note that the stories are all fictional, even if they are inspired by events that did occur. 

“I didn't want it to be a memoir and I didn't want it to be something that was only relatable to Mennonite audiences,” he explains. “The Mennonite audience was obviously central and important to me, but at the same time, I really was dedicated to making it accessible to anyone from any background. And I think that people from small towns will have a lot of touch points, people across the prairies.” 

Toews appreciates the opportunity given to him by the Jake Epp Library, to return to Steinbach and share his passion. His book, Pinching Zwieback, can be found in various bookstores including the Gift Shop at the Mennonite Heritage Village in Steinbach.