Toews, one of my all-time favorite writers, often takes on real-life experiences of her own in her novels, but this time she fictions up a true story about women in a Mennonite colony who were being drugged and abused in the recent past. The limitations of these women's options are especially disturbing in this novel (the women can't read, don't have phones, or cars, or even a map) and Toews reveals these obstacles throughout these pages with well-timed and intense pacing. The novel, in an interesting twist, is narrated via the notes (meeting minutes) written by an educated man in the colony who helps the women, and his character is just as complex and sympathetic as the strong cast of women. As the book nears its last pages and the women decide whether to stay or leave the colony, the nuances of their stories and conflicts build to a powerful ending that lingers. Recommended By Kevin S., Powells.com
In this slim novel, Toews captures the tragicomedy and intelligence of her Mennonite characters — isolated women who can’t read a book or a map, but nevertheless find the intellectual and physical courage to question the only home they’ve ever known. Full of sharp, surprising conversation, Women Talking explores universal themes of autonomy, justice, faith, community, and love while illuminating the deep intimacies and peculiarities of a fascinating group of unexpected heroines. Recommended By Rhianna W., Powells.com
Miriam Toews gives us her fictional rendering of the hundreds of real rapes that occurred in the Bolivian Mennonite community between 2005 and 2009. The rapes were attributed to ghost demons, but in actuality, a group of male members of the community sprayed animal anesthesia in the bedroom windows of their intended victims, climbed through the windows, and raped the women and girls. While the crimes have already been committed at the start of this novel, the fallout is in full force. The women of the community are meeting in secret to establish what their response will be to the crimes against them. The text is presented as the minutes of the meeting the women hold, recorded by a sympathetic man, because the women can neither read nor write. While the entirety of the book is, indeed, women talking, it is a shocking excavation that peels back layers of shame, indoctrination, loss of free will, ignorance, and misogyny. Perhaps only someone who has escaped a deeply religious communal life, as Toews did, can illustrate so clearly the oppression the women endure. With no money, nowhere to go, no knowledge of the world beyond their community, and not even the ability to speak the native language, the women are terrified, but they are enraged as well. By turns harrowing, poignant, heartbreaking, and hopeful, Women Talking is the bittersweet awakening of women to their own power. Recommended By Dianah H., Powells.com
A horrific discovery prompts the women of two families to gather in secret and do something unheard of in their isolated, patriarchal community: choose. I read this stunning, disquieting tale — all the more disquieting for its genesis in real events — with my heart in my throat. Recommended By Tove H., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
Based on real events, Women Talking is the story of eight women in a remote Mennonite colony who face an agonizing decision in the aftermath of a series of unspeakable sexual crimes.
Eight Mennonite women climb into a hay loft to conduct a secret meeting. For the past two years, each of these women, and over 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?
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 a community wrestling with its own foundational myths. For readers of Lidia Yuknavitch's The Book of Joan and Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, Women Talking examines the consequences of religious fundamentalism and communal isolation, and it celebrates the strength of women claiming their own power to decide.
“Miriam Toews’s Women Talking is a flawless, ferocious work of art. I have yet to read a more scathing indictment of patriarchal violence, or a more illuminating quest to comprehend the most vital contours of the human experience: what is agency, what is meaning, what is justice, what is love. This is the kind of novel that changes you. Get ready.” Laura van den Berg, author of The Third Hotel
“Women Talking is an astonishment, a volcano of a novel with slowly and furiously mounting pressures of anguish and love and rage. No other book I've read in the past year has spoken so lucidly about our current moment, and yet none has felt as timeless; the always–wondrous Miriam Toews has written a book as close to a Greek tragedy as a contemporary Western novelist can come.” Lauren Groff, author or Fates and Furies and Florida
“Don’t miss this one! This amazing, sad, shocking, but touching novel, based on a real-life event, could be right out of The Handmaid’s Tale.” Margaret Atwood on Twitter
About the Author
Miriam Toews is the author of six previous bestselling novels: All My Puny Sorrows, Summer of My Amazing Luck, A Boy of Good Breeding, A Complicated Kindness, The Flying Troutmans, and Irma Voth, and one work of nonfiction, Swing Low: A Life. She is winner of the Governor General’s Award for Fiction, the Libris Award for Fiction Book of the Year, the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, and the Writers’ Trust Engel/Findley Award. She lives in Toronto.