This novel is based on real events that happened between 2005 and 2009 in a remote Mennonite community in Bolivia where more than 100 girls and women were drugged unconscious and raped in the night by what they were told were “ghosts” or “demons.” Women Talking is an imagined response to these real events. It takes place over 48 hours, as eight women hide in a hayloft while the men are in a nearby town posting bail for the perpetrators. 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 invited by the women to witness the conversation–a former outcast whose own surprising story is revealed as the women talk. The time has come for the men to listen and the women to talk!
The book has been published at the right time, it’s kind of a Mennonite Me Too! There are also parallels with The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood that was recently adapted into a TV series. There’s a great Guardian article about the author and this book, which is worth a read: here.
Canadian author Miriam Toews (pronounced ‘Taves’) is known for writing novels about her religious and family background–the author is obviously conflicted about her love for her heritage, family, and community, but also angry about how members of that same rigid and righteous community are treated, especially women. (Notice what the highlighted letters on the cover spell). With all of her books I get the feeling that she really needed to write them to sort out her own feelings about her upbringing. In this novel the women who are kept illiterate and seem to have no higher value than the animals on the farm, are given a voice in a witty and heartbreaking way. The conversation that ensues features some deeply philosophical thinking and a real struggle to determine a way forward. It may seem simple, but it’s complicated.
Toews is a master at comic relief, dealing deftly with deeply disturbing topics by employing her signature dark humour. Reading this on the heels of Educated by Tara Westover was interesting because there were so many parallels. This would be an interesting book club read for sure, although for myself, I preferred her last book All My Puny Sorrows, a poignant fiction based on true events in her own family regarding her sister’s suicide.