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Women Talking (2018)

by Miriam Toews

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6784225,068 (3.81)78
Between 2005 and 2009, in a remote religious Mennonite colony, over a hundred girls and women were knocked unconscious and raped, often repeatedly, by what many thought were ghosts or demons, as a punishment for their sins. As the women tentatively began to share the details of the attacks-waking up sore and bleeding and not understanding why-their stories were chalked up to 'wild female imagination.' Women Talking is an imagined response to these real events. Eight women, all illiterate, without any knowledge of the world outside their colony and unable even to speak the language of the country they live in, meet secretly in a hayloft with the intention of making a decision about how to protect themselves and their daughters from future harm. They have two days to make a plan, while the men of the colony are away in the city attempting to raise enough money to bail out the rapists (not ghosts as it turns out but local men) and bring them home. How should we live? How should we love? How should we treat one another? How should we organise our societies? These are questions the women in Women Talking ask one another-and Miriam Toews makes them the questions we must all ask ourselves.… (more)
  1. 10
    The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh (hairball)
    hairball: They go together like a dry, choking mouthful of peanut butter on crackers. I don’t mean that in a bad way—just, hard topics.
  2. 00
    My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite (sturlington)
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Showing 1-5 of 40 (next | show all)
A special book. Remarkable. A feminist tour de force narrated by a young Mennonite man. A slow read but beautiful. Poem-like. Horrifying and gorgeous. Very sad. Sweet as presses flowers. They should make a movie —or better yet a prestige channel mini series —out of this little miracle.

Of all the books I’ve read about violence against women, this one and Beloved and Thereafter Johnnie and The Girls stand out as books that light the path forward. ( )
  wordlikeabell | Apr 12, 2021 |
Short but full. What does it mean to forgive? To be brave and stand up for what you believe in even when it means going against what you believe in? The illiterate women in this story debate their faith, their beliefs, their life, with such conviction and passion even though they have faced the most horrific betrayals and abuse. Yet they are so strong and stalwart and broken and human. An excellent piece that should be adapted for the stage.

2020: Listened to the book on audio, and it's still amazing. ( )
  LDVoorberg | Nov 22, 2020 |
As a former victim of domestic violence and sexual assault, this book was a rough, but powerful, read for me. The author states that the story is loosely based on truth. Over a period of four years, more than 100 women and children were sexually assaulted in a Mennonite community in Bolivia. The victims were drugged with animal anesthetic and assaulted, waking the next morning bruised, bleeding, and in pain. Victims were led to believe that demons were attacking them because they were sinful. When the men responsible were arrested, the victims were accused of lying, expected to just forgive them and not seek justice, and assaults continued. Miriam Toews took her outrage over reports of the case and wrote this book.

The story builds using notes from secret meetings of the women. They are illiterate, so a trusted man attends the meetings to record the discussions. I was immediately sucked into the story. Thinking about a community of women kept illiterate, isolated, and without any decision making powers was disturbing. The thought that this sort of thing still happens in the world made me realize how spoiled, unaware and blind I am because of the relatively easy life I live. I am college educated. I am not abused on a daily basis. I make my own decisions. I have money at my disposal. My husband does not control my life. I'm treated as an equal. I can only imagine how these women felt.... They had to meet in secret to decide to stay in the life they knew, or leave and try to start over again somehow.

I felt so many emotions while reading this -- anger, fear, sadness. But it also made me realize how strong women are. When faced with an almost impossible situation, women will somehow find the strength to power through and go on. When faced with a horrific, abusive situation, these women met secretly to decide what to do. They supported each other and they did not falter. Bravery. Intelligence. Compassion.

I loved the plot of this book. I kept reading because I truly wanted to know what happened to these characters. But, the story moves slowly. Maybe the plodding feel is because it's reported through meeting notes? Most of the story is told through conversations. It made things tedious at times. But, I do see why the author chose the format. It works with the characters and the situation. They couldn't just make a decision and act on it. They were powerless. Conversation, planning and secrecy were required. Slow, methodical planning. They had to think it through. Their choices were do nothing and let things continue.....stay and fight for safety in their community.....or leave and learn to survive in the world outside the community. Big choices. Coming from a religious sect, they had to rethink their entire belief structure. Heavy stuff. And not something that can be decided quickly. My emotional response to this story might be because I knew from the start it was based on truth. If I had been reading this story solely based on its own merits, I might have been more frustrated by its slow pace.

I would have liked a lot less discussion of religious doctrine and a little more action, but the format (meeting notes) limited the exposition to conversations. The focus, at times, was on religion a bit too much, although I do recognize that the characters involved are part of a religious sect. I could see this book being great for discussion at a Christian women's group or book club. But the constant religious overtones put a damper on the story for me. It made me mad -- women subjugated, lied to, victimized, traumatized -- in a community that should have been safe had there not been extreme villainy and hypocrisy occurring. It took my attention off the subject of rape and abuse and turned it more towards my dislike of organized religion.

All in all, a powerful story about women. A bit too much religion for me, personally. But, I still enjoyed it. I'm giving this book a solid 3 stars.

**I voluntarily read an advanced readers copy of this book from Bloomsbury via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.** ( )
1 vote JuliW | Nov 22, 2020 |
The women in a Mennonite community must decide what to do when their rapists are being bailed out by members of their own village. August, whose is back after his family left the community when he was twelve, is taking "minutes" for the women while they talk over their options. Do they leave? Stay? Fight? They struggle with their faith, fear, and friendships. The decisions are made more difficult because they do not read, write, or even know where they are.

As I was reading this, I kept thinking that August was an unreliable narrator. It's a bit hard to read some of what he writes, due to lack of punctuation, but he keeps telling us he's writing as fast as he can. The sins of this community are far reaching, old, and numerous. There are some unanswered questions about Bishop Peters for me that I wish were clarified, but it's not his story. I will be thinking about this one for a long time. ( )
  readingbeader | Oct 29, 2020 |
A short novel that would make an excellent play, should anyone care to develop it, given that there are 3 distinct acts, little change of scene and that it is almost entirely dialogue based. A group of women, from three generations, in a remote Mennonite community in Bolivia, have 48 hours to discuss what actions they should take to respond to a series of sexual assaults and rapes they have been subject to from the male members of their community, under cover of darkness, drugged by nightshade and told they were the result of visitation from demons. Should they leave, should they stay and fight, or should they do nothing?

In these circumstances, Ms Toews is to be congratulated for finding such unique voices for all of her female characters. One might of thought that given the uniformity of their experience, extremely limited knowledge of the world, illiteracy and general lack of education, the women might be cut from the one cloth. And yet that is very much not the case. Each of the women, from teenager to matriarch, has her own fears, anxieties and hopes, her own thresholds of anger and humour, her own small ways of subverting the system, and her own internal world.

Because of this, although the subject matter of the novel is depressing (especially when the rape of children is concerned), the novel is a joy. The reader roots for the women to succeed, on their own terms, whatever success looks like to them. As such it is highly recommended. Minus half a star for the slightly contrived ending and also for a narrator that doesn't really fit. I realise that it its necessary, in a group of illiterate characters, to insert someone who is literate, but the narrator's presence in the community, and back story, doesn't really work for me.

However that doesn't detract from the power and the joy of the book . ( )
1 vote Opinionated | Oct 17, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 40 (next | show all)
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For Marj / ricordo le risate
And for Erik / e ancora ridiamo
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My name is August Epp -- irrelevant for all purposes, other than that I've been appointed the minute-taker for the women's meetings because the women are illiterate and unable to do it themselves.
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Between 2005 and 2009, in a remote religious Mennonite colony, over a hundred girls and women were knocked unconscious and raped, often repeatedly, by what many thought were ghosts or demons, as a punishment for their sins. As the women tentatively began to share the details of the attacks-waking up sore and bleeding and not understanding why-their stories were chalked up to 'wild female imagination.' Women Talking is an imagined response to these real events. Eight women, all illiterate, without any knowledge of the world outside their colony and unable even to speak the language of the country they live in, meet secretly in a hayloft with the intention of making a decision about how to protect themselves and their daughters from future harm. They have two days to make a plan, while the men of the colony are away in the city attempting to raise enough money to bail out the rapists (not ghosts as it turns out but local men) and bring them home. How should we live? How should we love? How should we treat one another? How should we organise our societies? These are questions the women in Women Talking ask one another-and Miriam Toews makes them the questions we must all ask ourselves.

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