Book Review: Women Talking

Women Talking by Miriam Toews

One evening, eight Mennonite women climb into a hay loft to conduct a secret meeting. For the past two years, each of these women, and more than a hundred other girls in their colony, has been repeatedly violated in the night by demons coming to punish them for their sins. Now that the women have learned they were in fact drugged and attacked by a group of men from their own community, they are determined to protect themselves and their daughters from future harm.

While the men of the colony are off in the city, attempting to raise enough money to bail out the rapists and bring them home, these women—all illiterate, without any knowledge of the world outside their community and unable even to speak the language of the country they live in—have very little time to make a choice: Should they stay in the only world they’ve ever known or should they dare to escape?

Based on real events and told through the “minutes” of the women’s all-female symposium, Toews’s masterful novel uses wry, politically engaged humor to relate this tale of women claiming their own power to decide.

Wow, what a book! I’ll admit, I was nervous about reading this one because it sounded so heavy and absolutely horrific. The premise the book is based on, that the women and girls of an isolated Mennonite community were systematically and repeatedly raped in the night by male members of their community, is absolutely unthinkable.
However, this book is about the women. It is a record of their conversation after the fact, when the men are gone, and about what they plan to do next. This is powerful.
These women talk for 3 days about their choices and their limitations. They talk about their lack of education, their beliefs, what God would want them to do, where their duties lie. This is a book exactly about what the title says it is about, Women Talking. This may not sound compelling, but it absolutely is. I loved seeing how these women viewed themselves, their community, religion, their decisions, … On the cover of my Canadian edition, the words ANGER and LOVE are highlighted, and that is exactly what this book boils down to. And though the book may feel like it will be slow and strange, I found it hopeful and empowering to see these victimized women decide what to do for themselves.
This is the first time I’ve read a book by Toews, but it will definitely not be the last. I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for an interesting, well told, and thoughtful book that explores important issues.
Thank you to the publisher for a review copy of this book.
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