Woman Talking by Miriam Toews
What’s it about?
Between 2005 and 2009, in a remote Mennonite community in Bolivia, a series of sexual assaults were perpetrated upon the women and girls of a Molotschna. The victims are sprayed with a cow anesthetic while they sleep and then are violated. Upon waking they know that something has happened but can not put the pieces together. A man is finally caught breaking into a bedroom in the middle of the night and he confesses to the crimes. He also implicates seven other men who had been taking part. It is believed that in this community at least 130 women and children were raped in this time period. The victims ranged in age from 3 to 60. The perpetrators, and other community members, tried to make the women believe that the attacks were being made by ghosts. Further on, it was said that God was punishing the women for their sins. This actually happened. This novel is an imagined conversation between a group of the victims. The women must decide about how to go forward with their lives in the aftermath of these attacks.
What did it make me think about?
So- with a little research I found that Miriam Toews was raised in a Mennonite community in Canada. Interesting. She says, "What is harmful in the Mennonite tradition resembles what’s harmful in any religion—when religious leaders use the authority of God to scold, shame, punish, silence, and shun people. In extreme cases, they use God’s authority to justify the most depraved crimes. It’s that abuse of authority—and witnessing first hand its destructive effects—that alienated me from the church." This story is all about what complete and authoritarian power can do in a community.
Should I read it?
I loved Toews earlier book, All My Puny Sorrows, and was looking forward to reading this. This novel is an imagined conversation between a group of women who have been consistently denied any type of autonomy over their own lives. It is an interesting book that will appeal to some readers, and not to others. This book is not plot driven but it is very thought-provoking.
"I remember how my father, two days before he disappeared, told me that the twin pillars that guard the entrance to the shrine of religion are storytelling and cruelty."
If you liked this try-
The Incendiaries by R.O. Kwon
The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes
The Animals by Christian Kiefer
The Sound of Things Falling by Juan Gabriel Vasquez
favorites from 2020
some favorites of the last decade
best of winter 2020
best of summer/fall 2019
best of winter/spring 2019
best of summer/ fall 2018
best of winter/spring 2017-18
best of spring/summer 2017
best of winter
best of summer 2014
last spring favorites
on my nightstand
edge of your seat
― Charles William Eliot
3 to 4- I found some aspect of this book redeeming but would not recommend it.
5 to 6- I really enjoyed something about this book (characters, plot, meaning etc.) but it was uneven. Some aspects were stronger than others.
7 to 8- It was a good book. I liked lots of aspects of this book. I would recommend it.
9 to 10- I was sorry to turn the last page. I highly recommend this book!