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Women Talking

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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.

216 pages, Hardcover

First published August 21, 2018

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About the author

Miriam Toews

12 books2,507 followers
Miriam Toews is a Canadian writer of Mennonite descent. She grew up in Steinbach, Manitoba and has lived in Montreal and London, before settling in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Toews studied at the University of Manitoba and the University of King's College in Halifax, and has also worked as a freelance newspaper and radio journalist. Her non-fiction book "Swing Low: A Life" was a memoir of her father, a victim of lifelong depression. Her 2004 novel "A Complicated Kindness" was her breakthrough work, spending over a year on the Canadian bestseller lists and winning the Governor General's Award for English Fiction. The novel, about a teenage girl who longs to escape her small Russian Mennonite town and hang out with Lou Reed in the slums of New York City, was also nominated for the Giller Prize and was the winning title in the 2006 edition of Canada Reads.

A series of letters she wrote in 2000 to the father of her son were published on the website www.openletters.net and were profiled on the radio show This American Life in an episode about missing parents.

In 2007 she made her screen debut in the Mexican film "Luz silenciosa" directed by Carlos Reygadas, which screened at the Cannes Film Festival.

In Sept. 2008, Knopf Canada published her novel "The Flying Troutmans", about a 28-year-old woman from Manitoba who takes her 15-year-old nephew and 11-year-old niece on a road trip to California after their mentally ill mother has been hospitalized.

The book, Irma Voth, was released in April 2011. Her latest book, All My Puny Sorrows, was published in April 2014.

For more information see Miriam Toews (1964–) Biography - Personal, Addresses, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Adaptations, Sidelights

The following is an interesting article written by Miriam Toews:

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5 stars
9,245 (20%)
4 stars
16,658 (36%)
3 stars
13,510 (29%)
2 stars
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1 star
1,301 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 5,814 reviews
Profile Image for Emily May.
1,962 reviews294k followers
January 17, 2019
I have done what the verse from Philippians instructed, which is to think about what is good, what is just, what is pure, and what is excellent. And I have arrived at an answer: pacifism.

I don't understand all the starred reviews for this book.

Perhaps Women Talking works better if you go into it expecting a religiophilosophical analysis, instead of a feminist novelization of a true story. There are some echoes of Plato in here, to be sure. Readers familiar with Socratic discussions will recognize the repetitive circles of conversation as the women discuss what is the best, and most moral, decision in the eyes of god.

Pretty much everything that happens can be gathered from the title and description. I was intrigued and horrified to hear that this is based on a true story of a Mennonite colony in Bolivia. Over several years, hundreds of women and girls were drugged and raped in their beds by "ghosts" or "demons". These supernatural creatures were eventually discovered to be men of the colony. Bringing attention to this horrendous crime is arguably the book's strongest point.

In this book, women talk. Yes, I'm being a little facetious, but it's an accurate description of almost the entire book. This isn't a problem in itself. It's just that these discussions among the Mennonite women about whether they should leave the colony or "stay and fight" are bloodless, unbelievably rational given the circumstances, and concerned almost solely with religion and analyzing what their religion wants them to do.

They sit around, sharing cigarettes and drinking instant coffee, and weigh the pros and cons of leaving and argue about various interpretations of what their religion would ask of them. I've never heard sexual abuse approached in such a cold and emotionless way.

I also don't understand why this supposedly feminist story was given to a male narrator. I've seen some others argue that it is because the book is framed as meeting minutes, which must be kept by August Epp because the women are illiterate. This might make sense in theory, but I have no idea why the author decided to use meeting minutes at all, when this book is written in a style unlike any meeting minutes I have ever seen in my life. It doesn't read like meeting minutes; it reads like a regular first-person narration from a man's point-of-view. An odd choice.

I think this might be a book for readers who enjoy lengthy discussions about how to correctly apply religious doctrine.

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Profile Image for emma.
1,825 reviews48.3k followers
February 3, 2019
the fact that this two hundred-page book took me 2 weeks to read is basically a review in and of itself.

I really wanted to like this book, which is based on a true story so horrifying and unbelievable and real that it would be ridiculous if it were never fictionalized. but I just couldn't. for so many little, basically-me-being-nitpicky reasons (including the writing style and the structure and the fact that all the characters were introduced at once in a very similar fashion so that I could never get a real grasp of who anybody was) but mainly for One Big Reason. and that reason is this:

why the hell is a man telling this story?

quick TW before we get into the synopsis: sexual assault, drugging, domestic violence

this is about a true event in the Mennonite colony of Manitoba, in Bolivia. for years, women were being knocked unconscious with animal tranquilizers and sexually assaulted during the night. this included young children.

the book follows the Mennonite women's meetings to determine whether they should stay in the colony, or leave. this should be wrenching and gripping and gruesome and disturbing. and it is some of those things, sometimes.

but the continual distraction (and detraction) from all of that for me was this: THIS STORY IS NARRATED BY A MAN.

the women of Molotschna (the colony) are illiterate, so this story is constructed as the minutes of a meeting. which are written by a man. a man who continually interjects his stupid male gaze into the stupid narrative and reduced the whole thing. the power of these women's story was interrupted by a man who fancies himself in love with them, who must randomly consider his own masculinity, who cannot shut the f*ck up for one f*cking second about exposed ankles and uncovered hair and fashionably rolled socks.

this is a FICTIONALIZED RETELLING. and I just cannot think of a reason why the author would have to make the choice to reduce the women's power over their own story in this way.

bottom line: the fact that a book that is shorter than some of my school notebooks managed to get this far under my skin says it all.


if this book was any more visually reminiscent of The Handmaid's Tale, it'd be called, like, The Maidservant's Fable

(thanks to bloomsbury for the ARC)
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,736 reviews14.1k followers
January 1, 2019
I had to stop And think for a little more than a day on what my rating of this would be, had to separate my feelinges so I could judge what Toews has accomplished by writing this book. Quite frankly, this book made me so angry for the women in this Mennonite enclosed colony in Bolivia. Between 2005 and 2009, over 100 women and children were drugged and raped by male members of their sect. The youngest was three, a great part of what made me so angry. These women were expected to forgive their rapists and just carry on as if nothing had occurred. There is more to this, but that is all I'm saying about the men.

Toews, from a Mennonite background, much like these women, decided to give them the voice they probably did not actually have. Or maybe they did, I don't know that. So a group of women get together, to decide whether they are going to leave the colony or stay. The only man present, August, trusted, has is own back story, a very interesting one. It is while they talk that we learn of their lives in the colony, where they are so little valued that they are not taught to read or write, not allowed to express their likes or dislikes, completely powerless. Another huge source of my anger. In a short amount of pages, Toews accomplishes much, provides insights, and shows the remarkable courage of these women. Quite a revelation and accomplishment both.

Not a thrill a minute, there is some repetition as the women talk through their beliefs, their options and how their decisions will be accomplished. Yet, much is said, much is learned. Toews is an excellent author and one of my goals this year is to read the books by her that I have not yet read.

This was Angela , esils and mine monthly read. We all agreed on this one.

This is a link to an article I found on why Toews wrote this book. Quite informative.

ARC from Netgalley.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,007 reviews36k followers
January 11, 2019
The women in this book have been dealt a hand of crappy cards.
The women need to talk.
With only 2 days free until the men in their community return - ( its their intension to bring back the lovely rapists who have been in jail to give them back their RAPING-LEADERSHIP... cuz they are such nice wholesome decent men)...
So.....while the men are away..., the women will play ( with one man allowed to play too).....
Eight women meet secretly- - ‘barn-style’ group-emergency-chat gathering.
What the f#~k solution can they agree upon that will protect them in the future?

A couple of the women are pregnant already - ( greetings, daddy?), and several daughters were also RAPED!!!!!
The word *violated* is just not BIG ENOUGH!!!

The year was 2011 when the two-day ‘talk-a-thon’ took place. The RAPES took place in the years 2005-2006. Over 100 women were RAPED!!!!

I wonder how many times I need to write the word RAPE - before the devastating REALITY syncs into every cell of our HEARING THIS? And what’s the plan to STOP IT?/!!!!!!

NOTE... ( this might sound trite), when talking about RAPE...( not intended), but ...
Geeeeee- we each know how hard it is to make changes in our OWN LIVES...
We are FAMILIAR with our crappy problems - to change them FOR THE BETTER - is one of the hardest things a human being does FOR THEIR OWN BENEFIT.
People resist change. Change creates upset.... it’s frightening. THINKING about change - talking about it - is a start - but even for THE MOST INDEPENDENT POWERHOUSE women today - who believes in civil rights - justice - their life working - has STRUGGLES CHANGING......their environment- diet- and habits... etc.

Yet - these 8 women - whom have ONLY KNOWN this lifestyle - are expected to clap their hands over a solid solution???
Good luck!

These are RELIGIOUS women!!! Their thought reasoning is specific.
God - (their faith) - is a strong force. They haven’t been raised to think freely.

The women couldn’t read or write. ( of course). Welcome to their ‘religious ‘ community!!! (Wow- even in the year 2011)
That type of ‘organized-religion’ is one I wouldn’t wish for my worse enemy.
THIS IS NOT the 1600’s.
Who knew that in the years 2000+, illiterate was desired.... in ANY community -religious or otherwise!!!!!!
It’s Religious brainwash if the women felt ‘not reading’ was being faithful to their God.

*August Ebb* - was the only man - also a part of the 2-day ‘talk-a-thon’.
He was the ‘minutes-note-taking’-guy. The women trusted August to have their best interest at heart.
God- forbid - the eight women could trust their own voices ‘together’ without the need of a MAN for help.
Yep... fitting!!! It’s the community the Mennonite women knew!
Men were always granted more power than women...
So why would this ‘women’s talking’ gathering be any different.

See the problem about solution solving?
“What if the rapists are released on bail and return to the colony and find that there are no girls and women here, and begin to use these boys, the 13 and 14-year-olds, as targets for their attack?
One of the females ( Mejal) chimes in.
“Surely we can’t be afraid of boys this age? Why couldn’t they join us?

Ona ( another woman speaks):
“August, you’re the boys teacher. What is your feeling about this? Do your boys at this age pose a threat to our girls and women?
August must stop his transcribing in order to properly answer her question.
“I’m simply not capable of containing my happiness and surprise at being asked a question by Ona, formulating my answer, communicating it in Low German, and translating it instantly in my mind to English—while almost simultaneously writing in English translation on paper”.
August’s answer: Ha... teasing... don’t expect me to give you spoilers!
However - his answer ‘is’ in two-parts.

Yet....NO ANSWER is clear- cut- and dry when it comes to looking at religious beliefs - forgiveness - repenting - education -sinners - heaven - and hell.

The women in the community talked & talked... discussing/arguing/laughing at times/ debated.... ultimately about how to take their lives back after these horrific RAPES!!!

Based on a real-life event....
Dystopian Fiction written in a unique format...(very visual to imagine)
Miriam Toews took a god-awful terrifying- subject -made it personal -offering readers the possibility for our own added interactive discussions.
Perfect book club pick!

Thank You Bloomsbury Publishing, Netgalley, and Miriam Toews
Profile Image for Felicia.
254 reviews931 followers
October 13, 2018
I don't know how this book got published.

A fictitious account of actual events, a dark and disturbing subject with a plethora of 4 and 5 star reviews. What could go wrong? Well, in the case of this book, everything.

The entire book is spelled out in the description. Eight Mennonite women discover that themselves, along with 100+ other women and children in their community, have been drugged and raped by the community men over the course of two years.

These eight women gather secretly to discuss what they are going to do now that the truth has come to light. They have three choices: stay and do nothing, stay and fight or leave.

What follows is that secret conversation as told by the meeting minutes taken by August Epp. Although he is a man, August is the only person they can trust that can read and write.

The entire book is made up of one conversation, or I should say the minutes of one conversation. This leaves the style of the story less than savory. Long ramblings of what is, in my experience, not consistent with the usual format when taking minutes. August also includes his personal thoughts which is counterintuitive as well as distracting.

The women have unusual names and all seem to be related in some way or another leaving it nearly impossible to decipher who is who for most of the story. The same three choices are pondered over and over with little progress towards a decision until the very end. I felt like I read the same conversation 100 times.

Religion is prevalent in everything these women discuss as they try to figure out how to save themselves without falling out of God's grace. I would dare say that 3/4 of this story revolves around religion and that alone is enough to turn me off from this book.

While the real life account of what happened to these women is compelling, the author ruined any chance for the reader to connect and become invested in their plight with an unbearable format and lackluster character development.

Now for the positive: it is a very short book.

If I had to choose an audience for this book it would be a Christian women's church book club.

I received an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Angela M .
1,286 reviews2,205 followers
December 31, 2018

In the loft of a barn, the women of a Mennonite community in Bolivia meet to talk about what they should do, how they could move forward to protect themselves and their daughters from more of the vicious rapes they have endured as they were drugged in the middle of the night. I would have found this hard to imagine if not for this opening sentence of a note by the author before the book begins:

“Between 2005 and 2009, in a remote Mennonite colony in Bolivia (named the Manitoba Colony, after the province in Canada from which the colonists had emigrated in the mid-1900’s), hundreds of girls and women would wake up in the morning feeling drowsy and in pain, their bodies bruised and bleeding, having been attacked in the night. The attacks were attributed to ghosts and demons. Some members of the community felt the women were being made to suffer by God or Satan as punishment for their sins; many accused the women of lying for attention or to cover up adultery; still others believed everything was the result of wild, female imagination.” (See the links to some news stories I have posted at the end.)

That this novel is based on a true story makes this such a horrific and powerful story, as we listen to the women talk to each other about their options and to the only man left at the colony, August, a teacher who takes minutes for them since these women have never been allowed to read or write. The rest of the men have gone to bail out the rapists who were taken into police custody for their safety, the safety of the men not the women. Meanwhile these women struggle with what to do to keep their daughters safe. The discussions are difficult, philosophical, religious, practical and heartbreaking as they recount their experiences. Should they do nothing? Should they stay and fight? Should they leave? The middle of the book felt a little slow, but then I thought that these discussions seemed realistic; it was not an easy decision to make. While this was their story, I was moved by August’s connection to them. This is one of those books that was so impactful and definitely a powerful telling of the awful things that happened to many of the women in the real sect. I woke up thinking about these women, wanting to know what happened after the ending. Kudos to Miriam Toews for not forgetting these women.

Thanks as always to Esil and Diane for our monthly read together. A terrific discussion!

I received an advanced copy of this book from Bloomsbury through NetGalley.

Articles on the events this was based on:



Profile Image for Debra .
2,287 reviews35k followers
December 10, 2018
"In 2011, eight men belonging to the Manitoba Mennonite Colony were convicted of a series of sexual assaults committed from 2005 to 2009. Prior to the discovery, the rapes had been attributed to a ghost or demon. The victims were reported to be between the ages of 3 and 65. The offenders used a type of gas used by veterinarians to sedate animals during medical procedures. Despite long custodial sentences for the convicted men, an investigation in 2013 reported continuing cases of similar assaults."-Wikipedia

Women Talking is based on the above-mentioned rapes. The women in this book are contemplating their choices on how to deal with assaults:

1. Do Nothing
2. Stay and Fight
3. Leave

The Women secretly gather to discuss their choices and how to proceed. As none of them can read or write they ask a man, August, to take notes for them. As they share their feelings, thoughts, emotions, he writes them while also sharing bits of information himself to them. Naturally the women are angry, some are now pregnant as a result of the rapes, and some have daughters who have been attacked as well. Not only are they talking about what happened to them, they are talking about their religion, their faith, and the men in their community who are going to bail these men out. This is a very relevant book and it is frightening to think that this book is written about what really happened to a group of Mennonite Women. Attacks that happened in the night while the women were drugged. They wake up bruised, bleeding, sore, missing clothing, etc.

There is a short book which mainly takes places as the women sit and talk. As I mentioned, they talk about their faith, the role of forgiveness, what to do with anger, etc. I appreciated how they talked together and voiced their thoughts on their choices. Although they may disagree at times and even feel anger, they work things out and keep discussing their choices as they have a small window of time in which to decide.

So why three stars? Which, by the way, means I thought the book was good and I enjoyed it (in case you were wondering) At times, I felt the book dragged a little and I wanted to skim. Perhaps in the way this story was told, hindered my enjoyment a little. I think this book could have been told without the August's character. I think he was added to share some info and to show how Ona was showing him kindness by asking him to help. But for me personally, parts of his backstory got in the way. I wanted the entire book to be about the women and what happened to them. I encourage anyone interested in this book to pick it up and decide for yourself. Do you need to know some information about Mennonites to enjoy this book? I don't think so but it may help give some readers a general understanding on their history, their close knit communities and their faith.

Overall, a good book that addresses horrific assaults and how women of faith came together to talk and make a decision together.

I received a copy of this book from Bloomsbury Publishing and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The thoughts and opinions in this review are my own.
Profile Image for Liz.
2,022 reviews2,525 followers
March 12, 2019
This book almost reads like a science fiction novel, like some distant cousin of A Handmaid's Tale, until you remember it is based on a true story. A sect of Mennonites live in a distant part of Bolivia, speaking their own language and rarely in contact with the outside world. When it's discovered that the women of the community were being drugged and raped by 8 of the men, the men are arrested and sent to prison in the city. While the rest of the men are away securing the release of the rapists, eight of the women meet to determine whether to fight or leave the community. The women are illiterate but desire to have minutes taken of their meeting. So August, the school teacher and only remaining man in the colony, is tasked with keeping their minutes.
The title is apt, because about the only thing that happens during this book is talking. It gets very bogged down, pretty quickly, as the women go back and forth, arguing their limited options. The arguments tend to be circular, as women change their positions repeatedly. I found it hard to relate to them as real people and it took me ages to be able to keep them straight in my head.
Here's how you know you're really not enjoying a book - when you find yourself repeatedly looking at your TBR queue wanting desperately to get to your next book. There were some passages that moved me, but not enough to draw me into the book. I felt this book was all about unrealized potential.
My thanks to netgalley and Bloomsbury Publishing for an advance copy of this book.
Profile Image for Esil.
1,118 reviews1,338 followers
December 31, 2018
4+ stars

Women Talking is not perfect but it is very powerful and well worth reading. Miriam Toews announces at the beginning that the book is based on true events in Bolivia, where a number of Mennonite women were raped and abused by a group of men in their community. Women Talking imagines a two day conversation amongst the women as they decide whether to stay or leave their community. The book is very short, but there is so much to the narrative that it defies easy description or critique, but here is a list of thoughts and reactions in no particular order:

-The story is narrated by August, who sits in on the women’s conversation for the purpose of taking minutes because none of the women is able to read or write. August infuses much of his own history and his own thoughts into the narrative. His point of view and personality add a lot to the texture of the story.
-The women’s conversation is varied in the way real women interact – they move seamlessly between painful recollections, philosophical debates, religious scripture, bickering, teasing and tenderness.
-Through their conversation, we get a glimpse into the unusual and vulnerable lives these women have led – it’s hard to imagine living without knowing how to read, without knowing anything about the world beyond your small community and feeling that your community will not protect you from this type of aggression. It’s hard not to feel claustrophobic.
-The end is beautiful.
-I would have loved to know what happens to these women after they make their decision.
-At times, I found it hard to keep track of the different women -- although Ona, who was August’s childhood friend, is a real standout.
-Despite the difficult topic, there were a few delightful touches of humour.
-At times, especially in the middle, the narrative felt repetitive. Mind you, many conversations involving a group of people trying to make a decision are repetitive…

The bottom line is that, despite its flaws, Women Talking is well worth reading. It is rich and potent. I am especially grateful to have read this one as a buddy read with Angela and Diane.
Profile Image for James.
Author 19 books3,575 followers
December 6, 2019
In October 2019, I attended a fundraiser for the Brooklyn Library. After a donation, I was invited to their annual event in one of the most beautiful libraries in the area, where I met readers and authors both from Brooklyn and nearby communities. As a gift, I was permitted to choose 1 free book from all the nominees included in their annual awards. I chose Women Talking by Miriam Toews because of the summary shared by the editor when this book was mentioned. I knew nothing about it, but given the cover had a quote from Margaret Atwood, I thought it'd be a perfect choice. I finally had time to read the book yesterday after family left from a Thanksgiving vacation in NYC. Let's discuss it...

The book is based on a true story, but heavily fictionalized. A man takes minutes for women in a religious community who have all experienced something brutal at the hands of their husbands, fathers, brothers, or other men in their community. The minute-taker interjects with his own feedback, and the novel is broken into a few sections: 1st day of meeting, night after the meeting, 2nd day of meeting, and the resulting actions. The meetings in question were private among the women, so they could decide what to do about the men who'd harmed them. What an intense topic!

This review was difficult to write, as I initially wanted to comment on how terribly these women suffered, and how I wanted to kill the men myself. Then, I realized, this is a review of the book, not the action. For the suffering alone, I'd give the women 5 stars for their strength and courage. As a book, I settled on 3.5 stars... rounding down because I think the format hurt the tone overall. The entire goal of the book is for the women to decide among 3 choices: Do nothing, stay and fight, or leave.

On the positive side, the writing style and imagery are great. I could feel the pain in the words, or lack of words. When the minute-taker translates from one language to another in order to write down their memoirs and emotions, seeing his reaction versus their reaction was quite poignant and troubling. The characters are vivid and encouraged a wide range of emotions in me as a reader. The tone and concept are heartbreaking and stoic, in a good way -- when it should be.

On the negative side, I felt the story lacked some power and plot. It's weird to acknowledge that issue, but... the first half is when the women sit around discussing the incident. Not that I wanted to truly experience the violence, but I felt that in order to pull in more passion and hatred, we needed a brief opening scene of the attack to set the tone. Otherwise, it was just random women chatting from a different culture, and we as readers didn't have a connection to them yet. By 50%, the men show up. This is where I felt the book begin to pull me in... there was conflict. The men knew they were talking. Would they attack? Would they believe the women were just knitting a blanket and not planning an escape or counterattack of their own?

I understand it's not a typical story with suspense, but it could've made the message a little tighter. Also, the different style of dialog, since it was thru a translator and a minute-taker, made for a weird read to me. I couldn't easily sit / connect / absorb like I do with a traditional novel. I got past it, and I really invested in their decision... then the story just sorta ends with what they plan to do. So... it wasn't a great match for my reading style, but I recognize the value in the literary approach and the merit in the actual writing. For the proper reader, it'll glow. For me, it was an average story that didn't quite reach what I hoped it would.... so, 3.5 stars rounded down a bit. I would read more by the author too.
Profile Image for Jessica Woodbury.
1,602 reviews2,046 followers
April 23, 2019
I started this book on faith after hearing so many people deeply loved it. I skipped it initially, the thought of a book about so much trauma was distasteful, it seemed like it would hurt too much. Then when I started it, for the first hour or so I wasn't exactly sure of what it was. It seemed almost absurd at first, a book that is just what its title says: women talking. A group of women in a room having a conversation. It seemed more like a play than a novel at times, and I wondered what the purpose was. What was Toews trying to say through these women, women with such drastically different lives than the readers of the book.

But over time something happened and this book slipped into my soul. I listened to the audio and found that I couldn't listen while doing chores or trying to be upbeat, I had to listen in times where I could let myself be still and think. By the end I still didn't know exactly what Toews was trying to say, but I knew that I'd been deeply affected and moved. That this would be the feminist work that would stick with me this year.

Near the end I started to wonder how this book works so well. It is not trauma porn, we are not dragged through the details of what these women experienced. It is often philosophical, women asking very large questions that will shape their lives forever. It is not plot or character driven, really. The women are not interchangeable by any means, but we do not know much about most of them besides the few details we see that are relevant to the discussions. Decisions are made, but not much happens. And yet, I still feel that in this faraway story with these unique women there is something vital and important about all women.

How does she do this, I wondered. How does she make me feel like somehow an examination of all of patriarchy is distilled in this novel? I think the Mennonite colony setting and the extreme nature of the patriarchy in their society actually ends up working in its favor. Toews is able to lay everything out in straight black and white, we do not have to muddle through the gray areas that make up so much of daily life. Here, when some men have committed violence against women and men in power will not protect the women from future violence, how can these women come to any other conclusion than that all men are capable of this violence and that none will protect them? And how can the reader blame them for the kind of conclusion that would have every single man (and most women) in our society up in arms? You do not have to believe in God to listen to their attempts to reconcile their safety with the religious laws they are required to practice, to figure out how to address conflicts between the two, without considering your own moral code, your own attempts to make sense of the nonsensical.

Toews has set this book in an extreme patriarchy, and yet by removing all the arguments and assumptions we have encountered so often in our world that we do not even realize they exist, there is something cathartic upon hearing things in such stark terms. There is a sense of relief when you hear women discussing whether to do nothing, to stay and fight, or to go. The concept of removing one's self from patriarchy entirely is unfathomable, and yet it suddenly becomes possible through these women. I do not know why that brings me to tears, but it does. To undertake such a journey, into a world you do not know, but where you have the possibility of creating your own place free of violence, it is a dream few have ever dared.

I suspect that many readers will not see this book as saying all that much, that the structure of it will make it feel dry to others. And the approach of having a man write the story of these women put me at arm's length initially. But for readers who want a truly impactful feminist work, I highly recommend approaching this book with your arms open, ready for what it will reveal to you.
Profile Image for Beverly.
806 reviews293 followers
December 26, 2019
I am glad I read this, because it is based on a true event that I was not aware of. There are several Mennonite societies living in Bolivia. They don't speak Spanish and are not integrated into the larger country. Essentially, they are like little islands unto themselves. Bolivia doesn't get involved even in the crimes members commit, usually. This changed recently.

Between 2005 and 2009, eight men in the group raped hundreds of the women and children there. They used an animal tranquilizer that was made into a spray and doused each house with it and then took their time raping the women, some in their 60s and girls as young as 3. Boys and men were also raped, but this was kept hushed up. Eventuality, one man was caught climbing in a window and he ratted out the others. Bolivia did step in and try the men who were found guilty and are now in prison.

At first the women were not believed. Their leader told them it was their imagination and then later that they were being punished for some sins they had committed and it was the devil raping them. Waking up in blood and shit, these poor women and girls contracted venereal diseases, and some became pregnant. All were seen as outcast, because of sex outside of marriage, although it was against their will.

The book imagines women coming together after and discussing what they should do. They decide to leave, and it makes me wonder if any women did leave. They would have had a rough time. Female Mennonites are not taught to read or write and would be unable to speak the language. They had no maps and couldn't read it if they did. Besides having no money and not being able to be a part of modern society.
Profile Image for JR is Reading.
33 reviews31 followers
March 13, 2018
I don't really know how to review this book. I feel like if I try I will start crying - from sadness or rage. I wish we didn't live in a world where we need this book but oh my god how I needed to read this book. It broke my heart and made me feel like I wasn't alone in my anger.

In the last year with so much finally coming to light and so much finally being talked about in more than whispers about rape, sexual harassment, the silencing of women and the gap that still (STILL) exists between men and women a day didn't go by when I didn't feel anger at some point or another. This book was like feeding that anger through a sieve - a sieve of beautiful, intelligent, human, flawed women just sitting and talking through the implications of such evil being done to them and how they can fight back or understand it or just move past in the hopes of finding a better life - and after reading these women talk it through, I felt like I had talked it through and came out (just as angry) but more hopeful, more composed, more peaceful on the other side.

Damn this world for being one in which this book could be plausible but thank god for this world in which Toews wrote it. I can't imagine another book topping this one in 2018.
Profile Image for Susan's Reviews.
1,077 reviews490 followers
September 17, 2019
My local library book club chose the very topical book, Miriam Toews' Women Talking to review this week. We had a satisfying, lively and intelligent conversation - touching on all aspects of the plight of these women, and women in the world in general. We all agreed that humanity still needs to progress, but that we, as Canadians, have so much to be thankful for. Don't get me wrong: you will still find glass ceilings, discrimination of every sort, and political despots here (our Ford, U.S.'s Trump, Korea's Kim Jong-un, Burundi's Pierre Nkurunziza, and so on and so forth.... perhaps until the end of time? Let's hope not!!)
Miriam Toews left her own Mennonite community when she was 18. August Epp has many of her father's admirable qualities: he was a gentle and learned man, but whereas August's decision to commit suicide is prevented by Ona in the novel, Toews lost both her father and her sister (who suffered from manic depression) to suicide. Many readers question August's role in this story - the only male at the women's meeting. I see many reasons for August's inclusion, apart from the fact that he was the only one who could read or write. One reason may well have been an attempt by Toews' to immortalize her father by including him in this struggle against ignorance and oppression (a parallel struggle which may well have cost Toew's father his own mental well-being during his lifetime.) Another reason may have been the desire to include men in this discussion. This terrible injustice happened TO women, perpetrated by the male members of their commune, but men and women both need to be involved in any discussion about the perpetrators and the cause of this violence, so that all can be educated and exposed to the need to eradicate discrimination and violence in ALL of its forms.
There were many philosophical issues discussed by the women, and many readers questioned the ability of these women, who could not read or write, to understand, much less give voice to issues of freedom and complex religious ideology. Again, we have to remember that this novel is the author's version of what these women might have said had they been given the opportunity to hold such a meeting and decide their own fate: a sort of macabre fable or fairy tale.
While the conversations in this story may be fictional, the rapes were not, and they continue today in that same commune in Bolivia, lending credence to the suggestions that some of the men who were arrested, tried and convicted of the mass rapes may have been selected by the Commune's hierarchy as scapegoats, and that many of the perpetrators still remain at large, continuing to terrorize those women and children.
Ultimately, the three decisions that were discussed by the women are decisions that women and, indeed, all humans all over the world, must make when confronted with discrimination and violence: Do Nothing. Fight. Leave.
Spoiler Alert: When, ironically, Salome goes in search of her young son, Aaron - drugging him and forcing him to leave the commune with the other women and children, none of the people in our group could condemn her. If she left him behind, she was leaving him to be raised to believe that rape and violence against women and children is acceptable. Salome is a parent (not a "baby factory") and part of her role is to nurture and teach her children. Salome was such a badass sh*t disturber. She and the other women had made so many sacrifices and had endured brutal treatment and hardship so that their children would not have to suffer. Often, the only weapon or defense was their female bodies as a lure or distraction away from their defenseless young. This, indeed, was a very sickening state of affairs.
Yes, the dialogue was often repetitive and circular in this novel, but then that, too, is the nature of many group conversations. The same material is rehashed and discussed exhaustively. People bicker sometimes just for the sake of it, or, as one of the women pointed out, because they hated to admit when Salome was right, because Salome always THOUGHT that she was right! (I also suspect that Toews' editor may have demanded a few more thousand words here and there to pad the book. Sigh! I wonder if Mitch Albom's editors ever pressure him for filler?!!!)
Toews is, and always will be, a superbly intelligent writer. Her fervent commitment to exposing our naive adherence to dogma and our willingness to turn a blind eye to oppression is admirable. So many others before her have tried, yet such atrocities continue unchecked.
These are troubling times, when despots seem to come to the fore and quash and destroy anyone brave enough to raise his or her voice in opposition or criticism. These fictional women of Molotschna had to decide to leave and evolve (and perhaps die trying) or to stay, suffer in silence, stagnate and "devolve". Ona, the one character in this novel who is said to "love everyone", despite being ostracized for her odd anti-social, spinsterish ways, is the true "saviour figure" or hero in this tale. She remains hopeful and loving despite her community's attempts to kill her spirit by raping and assaulting her body.
This was a very thought-provoking, timely read. It will not be to every one's taste, but progressive change very rarely is.
Profile Image for Jenna ❤ ❀  ❤.
789 reviews1,184 followers
June 22, 2019
"We are not members, . . . we are commodities. . . . When our men have used us up so that we look sixty when we’re thirty and our wombs have literally dropped out of our bodies onto our spotless kitchen floors, finished, they turn to our daughters.”

This book is aptly named. "Women Talking". A more comprehensive title would be "Women Talking and a Man Taking Notes". That's what happens in this book, women talk and a man jots it all down. Sound boring? Well, at times, yes... but mostly it isn't.

Women Talking is based on a true story of a Mennonite colony in Bolivia in which, over a period of time, over 100 girls and women had woken up in the morning bruised and bloody. They thought they were being punished and demons were attacking them but eventually it came to light that 8 men were drugging them and then brutally raping them in the night whilst the others slept.

In Women Talking, Miriam Toews imagines what the women's conversation might have been after learning the truth about their abusers. It is set over a couple of nights, and details their discussion. Some of the women want to leave the colony whilst others feel like it is their duty to stay and forgive the men. Others fear escape, the unknown, and wish to stay and fight. It is a testament to the courage and strength of women, and a story depicting the ingrained sense of duty and obedience that men place upon women and which they are sometimes imprisoned by.

There isn't much action in this book, and yet it is strangely compelling. Listening in on the intense discussions of the women as they argued over what the best course of action should be keeps the reader engaged and hungry for more. I would find my mind wandering at times and then all of a sudden be engrossed again. For the most part, this book is skillfully written; it is philosophical at times, witty at others, and yet it is such a heartrending story, especially because this really did happen. It shows the many reasons women stay in abusive relationships, why some are able to leave and others stay. It is not because these women are weak but because they believe what the patriarchy says. They believe they are nothing without a man, that they deserve to be "punished", that their duty on earth is to serve men even when it comes at the expense of their own bodies and minds.

There is not much action in this book so it's not for everyone. If you love quiet, introspective books though, this is a beautifully written and well thought-out missive to the strength of women.

3.5 stars rounded up.

For a BBC article of actual story, click here
Profile Image for Ron Charles.
1,033 reviews48.5k followers
April 2, 2019
The true crime at the center of Miriam Toews’s novel “Women Talking” is unspeakable.

It sounds like something from the Middle Ages or a dystopia by Margaret Atwood. But, in fact, these horrors took place only a decade ago in the Manitoba Mennonite colony in Bolivia. For several years, more than 100 women and girls woke up in the morning bruised and sore, lying in their own blood. Strictly isolated in this patriarchal religious community, the women were told they must be imagining things or that evil spirits were punishing them for their sins. But finally the truth came out: At least eight men had been using a veterinary sedative intended for cows to knock out whole families and then rape the women and girls — some as young as 3 years old.

The Mennonites, a pacifist Christian denomination founded in the 1500s, have no formal legal system, and the most conservative colonies remain separate from modern society. The leaders of the Manitoba colony intended at first to handle this horrendous crime themselves, but the Bolivian government eventually became involved, and the rapists were sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Toews brings an unusual perspective and a unique approach to her fictional treatment of this atrocity. A Canadian author, she was raised by Mennonites, an experience that informed her brilliant 2004 novel, “A Complicated Kindness.” Although she has long since left the church, she understands the contours of the Mennonites’ exceptionally private faith, and she also knows the ills that can fester in such hermetically sealed communities.

But Toews has no interest in exploiting this crime for dramatic purposes. Crucially, “Women Talking” opens after the attacks have been exposed and outside auth. . . .

To read the rest of this review, go to The Washington Post:
Profile Image for Eric Anderson.
665 reviews3,234 followers
December 19, 2018
In 2011, news broke worldwide about eight men belonging to a Mennonite Colony in Bolivia being convicted of a series of sexual assaults committed over several years. Over 130 girls and women had been knocked unconscious using an animal tranquilizer and raped by these men. The horror of these facts were amplified by the knowledge that these women were part of a tight knit isolated community and they were made to believe the attacks were the result of ghosts or demons punishing them for their sins. It’s difficult to imagine the challenges these women faced in such a perilous position, especially because this strictly religious and remote community was all they’d ever known. But Miriam Toews has written an “imagined response” to these incidents in a novel that records several women of three different generations secretly meeting in a hayloft to decide how they will proceed. The options are to do nothing, stay and fight or leave. They only have a couple nights to come to a consensus before the men return with the perpetrators who’ve been let out of jail on bail. It’s an urgent, impassioned conversation that considers issues of faith and the meaning of community/family. I found it so bracing how this novel asks what you’d do when the only world you’ve known has betrayed you so egregiously and robbed you of your humanity.

Read my full review of Women Talking by Miriam Toews on LonesomeReader
Profile Image for Chelsea (chelseadolling reads).
1,478 reviews19.3k followers
June 27, 2022
Another book on my journey into literary fiction and, once again, I have absolutely no idea how I feel. This was extremely harrowing and unlike anything I've ever read. I don't think I liked it???? But I also don't really think this is a book you're supposed to like????? I think this is another one that I'll need to revisit in a few years after I get more acquainted with what my tastes in the literary fiction realm actually are.
Profile Image for Lisa.
1,466 reviews564 followers
February 1, 2020
A novel about 8 Mennonite women talking, in a hayloft, with a young man taking notes sounds mundane. But this slim novel hit me hard, to the core of my being. Their matter-of-fact discussion sprinkled with horrifying facts and bits of whimsy was so potent that I had to read it slowly over a week or I would have been paralyzed with grief and anger. That this horror happened, still happens.
Profile Image for Diane.
1,080 reviews2,653 followers
September 7, 2019
This was an intense and thought-provoking read. The novel was inspired by a true story of a group of women in a Mennonite colony in Bolivia who learned they had been drugged and raped by the men in their colony. The men had used an animal anesthetic to knock out the women overnight and make them unconscious. The women would wake up in pain, with bloody and bruised bodies. At first the attacks had been blamed on ghosts and demons, and the women felt they were being punished by God. When the truth was learned, the men were convicted and sentenced to prison.

In the novel, the women of the colony hold a meeting to decide what to do: should they stay in the colony and forgive the men? Should they leave the colony? But how would they do that, when they can't read and they've never been allowed to leave their area?

I listened to this on audio and was completely absorbed in the story. There is an especially moving section in which the women discuss how they are different from the livestock in the colony, and really, are they any different from how livestock are treated?

One of the parts of this story that I especially liked was what we learned about our male narrator, August, and how he came to be involved in the women's meeting. His back story was a nice complement to the women's situation.

If you appreciate thoughtful literary fiction, you will appreciate this book. Highly recommended.

Opening Passage

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. And as these are the minutes, and I the minute-taker (and as I am a schoolteacher and daily instruct my students to do the same), I feel my name should be included at the top of the page together with the date. Ona Friesen, also of the Molotschna Colony, is the woman who asked me if I'd take the minutes — although she didn't use the world "minutes" but rather asked if I would record the meetings and create a document pertaining to them.

We had this conversation last evening, standing on the dirt path between her house and the shed where I've been lodged since returning to the colony seven months ago. (A temporary arrangement, according to Peters, the bishop of Molotschna. "Temporary" could mean any length of time because Peters isn't committed to a conventional understanding of hours and days. We're here, or in heaven, for an eternity, and that's all we need to know. The main houses in the colony are for families, and I'm alone, so it is possible I may always, forever, live in the shed, which doesn't really bother me. It's bigger than a jail cell and large enough for me and a horse.)
Profile Image for Sunny.
667 reviews3,417 followers
January 13, 2023
Miriam Toews can tell women's stories like nobody's business

I wish I had read this before writing my cults essay (https://thelavendermenace.substack.co...) because the way this story conveys this story was just so moving and thoughtful. I think anyone raised in a patriarchal religious community can resonate with this story deeply, and the perspective that August provides us as the minute taker of Mennonite women the night of June 6th as they determine their own fates in the aftermath of the violence done against them by men in their own community and families was incredibly effective, imo.
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,049 followers
April 29, 2019
Based on a real life event, Miriam Toews writes about how the women of a Mennonite community deal with the uncovering of ongoing sexual abuse at the hands of the men in their own community. Do they stay? Do they forgive?

I love Toews and her novel All My Puny Sorrows was an amazing read - so much between the lines, deceptively simple, heartbreaking about sisters and mental illness. Yet in this scenario with a far more heightened situation I felt less invested in what was happening. Part of it is the narrator, a male who is taking notes of the women talking since they are illiterate. It creates a barrier that I'm not sure the reader can completely overcome.

And the entire novel is the women talking, not what happens after. The author has to navigate philosophical conversations between women who are illiterate and don't know anything beyond their community and the knowledge they have been allowed to obtain. Even their understanding of forgiveness, which is one of the core discussion points, comes from the very men that abused the women and children. When they realize this, it is almost enough to start a revolution. As a reader, I wanted to see the payoff, and I think I felt a little shortchanged. But she did something, as I observed myself holding my breath when a husband came home early.

I received a copy from the publisher through Edelweiss. The book came out April 2, 2019.
Profile Image for Elliot.
604 reviews37 followers
July 24, 2018
This book might be the perfect book club read for 2019. There is plenty to chew on and discuss within this slender volume. The bulk of the story is one long conversation that takes place over the course of two days - the women of an isolated Mennonite colony have been brutally sexually abused, and now they must decide whether to stay in the only home they have known or leave for the greater unknown world. The core of the story is rooted in the tension often found between religion and liberation, especially for women. A yearning for the ability to know more, be more, and even to be alone with one's thoughts, all at odds with what is perceived to be holy and proper. Ultimately it is a struggle between autonomy and community, safety and caregiving. The conversation is steeped in the spiritual as it explores the philosophical, and does not shy away from taking a hard look systemic issues of misogyny even though that word is never used. It was raw, wrenching, and throughly engrossing. I read it in two sittings.

So why only three stars? This was a struggle that was difficult for me to connect to. These women are very concerned with the religious implications of their quandary. The role of forgiveness, by themselves and by God. Whether is is acceptable to go against the wishes of their husbands. What is holy, godly, and righteous. This is important to them. But I'm a very different person. If someone repeatedly raped my three year old daughter staying with them would not be a question for me. It would not be up for debate. And so it was a difficult "problem" for me to invest in. This book was like a train wreck for me - I couldn't look away, but I was entirely horrified.

The other thing I bounced off of was Toews choice of narrator. I appreciated that she had a man keeping the record of the conversation, and that this man was a bit of an outsider himself. That was fine. I didn't like that he was romantically inclined toward one of the women. It cheapened the connection and the insights. I'd have preferred he care about them and their plight without being smitten. It might be nit-picky of me, but it really did bother me. Men are allowed to care about, and empathize with, women without being in love with them. It's a trope I'm tired of reading.

Here's the thing: I think this will be a deeply compelling read for anyone who has struggled with the role of faith and religion in their life while attempting to be independent and free thinking. I, however, am a stranger to that struggle so it didn't hit me quite as close. If you want a book that contrasts religion with feminism this is a really interesting read. It dives into territory you don't often see explored, and it's fertile ground. This book is going to be a great read for many people. If you have zero investment in religious dogma, however, this one may miss the mark for you.
Profile Image for Vanessa.
462 reviews289 followers
March 27, 2019
I often like to think how far Feminism has come but this book clearly shows we haven’t. Not even close. I’m suffering reading this, imagine how it is for the women in this town! These poor poor women.

Based on factual events this is a fictional account and a very uniquely written book about a town full of Mennonite women somewhere in back town Bolivia discussing their recent spate of rape attacks (by their OWN husbands, sons, fathers!!) and what they should do about it. Under total patriarchal control deeply devout in their religion under total subjugation to their god and the men in town. These women gather together to talk...and plan. Not all of them as some choose to do nothing. The fact that these women are talking instead of murdering says everything about them. To debate whether to leave while weighing up the pros and cons for both arguments shows how much the women consider everything else above themselves. The show of solidarity and connection is something to behold. The self sacrificing and selflessness to consider the wellbeing of ALL the women makes for an emotional read. How they keep levelheaded with humour and all! while undergoing discussions is beyond me. The fact that this book is loosely based on real events is flabbergasting, to realise this book is based on events that occurred around the early 2000’s and not the 1900’s is even more disturbing! There is no possible way to leave this book not feeling ANGRY and a little bitter. Powerful words, powerful book.

Profile Image for Alejandra Arévalo.
508 reviews1,290 followers
March 18, 2021
Ellas hablan es un texto oral precioso o algo así. Es oral porque su autora, Miriam Toews logra en su narrativa casi que calcar un evento y hacernos sentir en la presencia de este. Ellas hablan es un libro que nos narra el debate y luego éxodo de algunas mujeres que pertenecen a una comunidad menonita que, después de que varias niñas y mujeres fueron abusadas sexualmente por las noches mientras estaban dormidas con belladona, deciden abandonar este lugar y ver de qué manera pueden ser libres pero también conservar su fe. August es el personaje que nos narra las conversaciones de las mujeres, anotadas como actas por él que es el único que sabe escribir y se convierte en aliado de sus planes. Una historia durísima basada en los casos acontecimientos reales en una comunidad menonita y ficcionalizados por la autora de manera sensible y con afecto a todas las mujeres que somos o hemos sido parte de un sistema patriarcal que nos somete y abusa.
Profile Image for jo.
613 reviews488 followers
December 3, 2019
This is a daring thing to say, but I think this is Toews' best book to date. Which is saying something!

Review to come.


This is one of the best books I have ever read. Its heart is so big, it covers the surface of the earth.

Toews' contribution to the #metoo moment from inside a Mennonite community in Bolivia (this is a true story) is not only a tribute to the hundreds of women who were terrified and injured in this particular historical event, but also to all the women all over the world who took their courage into their hands and TALKED: to each other, to the public. Women talked, and in talking allowed other women to talk, and THINGS CHANGED.

So this is about the seismic power of women's talking. Women's talking -- to each other, for one -- creates community, creates culture, breaks bondage, reframes patriarchy. The women who talk in Toews' book do all of this and so much more: they connect, they love, they rage, they grieve, they comfort, they disclose, they respect, they are humble and strong, they are passionate and moderating. In the course of two days they create a bond with each other that transcends age and personal differences, even old grudges. There is no western culture in which men are allowed the same kind of passionate, liberating talk. Let's use it more, women.

What Toews does here with language (the women are illiterate and also speak an old oral language that has no written version) is phenomenal. One can imagine literary devices that would not have necessitated the interposing of a man between the women and their words. How about an omniscient narrator? But no, that would have been cheating, would it not? So Toews presents this book as the minutes of the meeting the women convene to discuss their next move after the magnitude of the sexual violence has been ascertained. On the one hand, this makes the words of the book the words of a man, who not only transcribes but also translates. On the other hand, it recasts masculinity. This particular man is vilified by the community for his sensitivity, his "femininity." August, the minute-taker, a man, ends up playing an essential role in the salvation of the women, and, in the process, he is saved himself.

Amazing book. Amazing literary achievement. I honestly cannot think of a better book in the whole history of books.
Profile Image for Meike.
1,512 reviews2,454 followers
May 31, 2019
"Women Talking" is based on a true incident: In the Manitoba Mennonite colony in Bolivia, many women and girls have repeatedly been knocked unconscious with a veterinary anesthetic in order to rape them - for several years, they have been gaslighted into thinking that evil spirits were punishing them for their sins, until the truth came out. Toews, wh0 has herself been raised as Mennonite, wanted to write a story honoring these women who were kept illiterate and dependent in a secluded patriarchial society, but found the strength to fight back and inform the state authorities about the crime they had suffered again and again, which resulted in 25 years in prison for the perpetrators.

What makes Toews' book unusual is the narrative approach: We largely read an account of eight women of different ages who secretly meet after they discovered that they and the other women had been sedated and violated. As representatives of all all women in the colony, they are tasked to determine what should be done now: Should they stay and forgive the men, should they stay and fight, or should they leave, thus embarking on a journey into a world utterly unknown to them? Most of the book does just what the title says, it depicts women talking, debating both practical issues and reflecting the worldview with which they have lived all their lives and which now shapes the way they perceive the world and how they think and reason.

The account we read is written down by August Epp who was raised in the colony, but whose parents had to leave and who, now a grown-up, decided to come back - what exactly happened to August and his parents is slowly revealed throughout the story and is thus one of the narrative strands employed to keep the reader's interest. As both an insider and an outsider who knows the world beyond the colony, the character of August also comments on the women and their arguments, thus guiding the reader through the conversations he records.

Toews' idea to structure a book like that really appealed to me, but unfortunately, the dialogue is often lacking suspense and urgency - sometimes, the writing feels a bit stale. Some reviewers have related the dialogue in "Women Talking" to the Socratic method as portrayed by Platon, but I think that is pretty far-fetched. Rather, you could say that the women are slowly turning away from catechism, which is also dialogue-based, by moving away from learnt doctrine and replacing memorised answers with their own reasoning. Still, in order to write a really moving and powerful account, the written dialogue would have needed to be stronger and more engaging.

Nevertheless, this book is an interesting experiment that draws attention to the lives of women in secluded patriarchal communities that are still in existence. I definitely want to read more books by Toews.
Profile Image for Repellent Boy.
488 reviews507 followers
September 12, 2022
En Molotschna, una alejada y hérmetica colonia, algo está pasando. Durante años, las mujeres y niñas de la colonia despertaban doloridas y sangrando, su cuerpo estaba lleno de moratones y tenían grandes hemorragias. El cura del lugar rápidamente alza la voz para negar la realidad de estas mujeres, asegurando que son imaginaciones suyas o mentiras. Cuando las pruebas son evidentes, pasa a culparlas, ya que si están sufriendo estas agresiones “serán castigos del demonio por sus pecados”. Sin embargo, las mujeres acaban descubriendo la realidad: los hombres de la colonia se dedican a drogarlas todas las noches para abusar de ellas, hombres que no son desconocidos, sino sus propios padres, hermanos, tíos, primos e hijos. Ahora estos hombres están presos y un grupo de mujeres se reúne para tomar una decisión ¿deben permanecer en Molotschna y perdonar estos delitos o deberían luchar por castigar a estos hombres? ¿Será la mejor opción marcharse de la colonia?

Ya solo pensar que esta obra está basada en un hecho real te golpea de lleno, porque si las mujeres de las grandes ciudades sufren violencias a diario, ¿cómo de desprotegidas están las mujeres que viven en este tipo de sociedades tan alejadas del resto del mundo, donde la ley la marcan cuatro tíos en favor de ellos mismos? Asusta solo de pensarlo. “Ellas hablan” es de esos libros que te crean una impotencia increíble, de esos que te dan ganas de lanzarlos a la cara de todos estos que te dicen que “ya estas cosas no pasan” o que “la mujer está muy protegida a día de hoy”. A esos les lanzaba yo este libro a la cara (y les metía un ladrillito dentro). Como dato importante deciros que esto ocurrió en 2011, y en 2013 se descubrió que otro grupo de hombres estaba haciendo lo mismo.

Pese a que es una historia dura, que crea impotencia, no se hace excesivamente difícil su lectura, ya que no se centra en mostrarnos escenas que han sucedido, sino que la trama gira en torno a ocho mujeres, dos abuelas, cuatro hijas y dos nietas, que se unen para tomar una decisión. Vívimos en un mundo tan justo (nótese la ironía), que las mujeres saben que los culpables que fueron encarcelados, pronto regresarán y ellas deberán tomar una decisión. La historia se centra en los diálogos que estas mantienen, debatiendo sobre su situación y reflexionando sobre diferentes temas como la religión, el machismo o los derechos de las mujeres.

Creo que hay reflexiones super interesantes, que resultan incluso más evidentes desde el punto de vista de mujeres aisladas, que dentro de su aislamiento social son capaces de llegar a ver las mismas desigualdades. El problema es algo educacional, pero también de falta de empat��a y de un mínimo de sentido común. Me ha gustado especialmente la crítica que se hace del personaje más hipócrita de toda la historia: el cura. Este pasa de culpar a las propias mujeres, haciéndolas sentir merecedoras de tal castigo divino, a hacerlas sentir culpables por no perdonar a estos hombres y que si no lo hacen, serán ellas las que no podrán ir al cielo al morir, jugando así con la única cosa a la que estas mujeres podían aferrarse: su fe. Demencial.

En definitiva, “Ellas hablan” es de esos libros que hay que leer, que pese a que son duros, revelan de una manera muy clara y directa como ha funcionado y sigue funcionando el mundo. Un mundo donde las propias mujeres están educadas para creer que soportarlo todo es su peaje y su obligación, y pocas logran salir de esa manipulación a la que son sometidas desde que nacen. Tengo la intención de leer todo lo que publique Miriam Toews, ¡vaya descubrimiento!
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659 reviews316 followers
December 28, 2019
Back in the mid 2000's there was a small Mennonite outpost in Boliva where the women were waking up in a daze, their bedsheets soiled with blood, dirt and semen. Naturally they were dismissed as crazy, or at the very least guilty of some sort of adulterous behaviour. But the women began talking and soon it was clear it was happening to dozens of others. Demons! A plague from God! What are you going to do?

It wasn't until two men were caught breaking into a neighbours house, armed with a veterinarian spray used to anesthetize cows were the women taken seriously. The men promptly named names and 9 men were arrested.

Miriam Toews takes that as a jumping off point for her latest novel where the women in her imagined Mennonite community are faced with the return of the guilty men in 48 hours. The women are ordered to forgive the rapists lest their souls be damned to hell, and the women responsible for damning them would be judged in the eyes of God and would have to be excommunicated. The women are faced with a decision: Do Nothing, Stay and Fight, or Leave.

A timely and incredibly powerful read that explores how these women fight for the right to be heard in a patriarchal society that has essentially stacked the deck against them. Toews does an incredible job playing these ideas of justice, retribution, forgiveness and grace in the recorded conversations of the women that is by turns funny, warm, exasperating and hopeful. Hidden in a barn loft the clock is ticking and a decision must be made.
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