*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*
Title: Women Talking
Author: Miriam Toews
Publisher: Knopf Canada
Publication Date: August 21, 2018
Synopsis from Goodreads:
Based on actual events that happened between 2005 and 2009 in a remote Mennonite community where more than 100 girls and women were drugged unconscious and assaulted in the night by what they were told (by the men of the colony) were “ghosts” or “demons,” Miriam Toews’ bold and affecting novel Women Talking is an imagined response to these real events. The novel takes place over forty-eight hours, as eight women gather in secret in a neighbour’s barn while the men are in a nearby town posting bail for the attackers. They have come together to debate, on behalf of all the women and children in the community, whether to stay or leave before the men return. Taking minutes is the one man trusted and invited by the women to witness the conversation–a former outcast whose own surprising story is revealed as the women speak.
Women Talking is a tough and heavy read of a novel, but it highlights the very real struggle that exists for women in some cultures and living situations today. In Women Talking, the main characters–who are also all victims of a heinous and ongoing sexual crime–do not have a voice. They are illiterate and uneducated, not by their own choosing, but by the circumstances and the laws of their community They are, perhaps for the first time in their life, called to a position of autonomy in order to make a decision that affects not only them, but their children, grandchildren, and generations to follow them. These women lived in a patriarchal, conservative Mennonite community.
This story is based on real life events of the repeated rape of women and girls in an isolated Mennonite community. These women were attacked in their homes by those they trusted most. They were told that these violent acts against them were God’s punishment for their sins. They were told that it was simply ghosts or demons. They were also told that because these acts happened to them when they were unconscious, that they were not in need of counselling or therapy because they didn’t really experience them. All of these things were told to the women by the men that they’d always known and trusted.
Now in the aftermath of these horrid acts, these women are forced to make a decision. They can stay and do nothing, forgiving the men so that they can all achieve salvation and join God in Heaven. They can stay and fight, which stands in direct opposition to their faith’s law of pacifism. Or they can leave and face a modern world that they do not know with nothing but their wits and one another to aid them. These women struggle with their incredible belief in God and their desire to live piously, while at the same time protecting themselves and their children. They want to uplift God and uphold their faith, yet find safety, refuge, and knowledge for themselves. This story is especially prevalent as we experience the #metoo movement. These women have no voice at all–even their story must be told by a man because these women cannot read nor right. Although August does his best to record what the women are saying, his story is not without the male gaze as he interrupts with his own observations, musings, and interjections.
This story is absolutely incredible. It’s well written, it’s poignant, and it’s thoughtful. August is an excellent narrator, although his position as the narrator is inherently flawed. This story is heart-breaking. It’ll ignite a fury in your heart and open your soul to these women. These female characters are so intelligent, yet they have not been given the space to really grow and take ownership of their lives until now. Miriam takes them on an incredible journey as they discuss their situation together.
I would highly recommend this book. It’s so relevant in our world today. Miriam opened my eyes to a world I knew little about, but it’s a world full of women who are not so different from myself, who deserve to be heard, and loved, and understood.