Women Talking

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 28 Feb 2019

Member Reviews

A powerful read based on horrific true events. This book is a literary tour de force. Recommended for adult book clubs, as well as young adults.
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The meeting notes writing style of this book was a little hard to get into and the story was heavy. Despite my difficulties getting into this story and I am so glad I stuck with it. I can't stop thinking about it and I am recommending it to everyone I know so that I have people to discuss it with. Well worth the beginning struggle to read.
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What I Liked

The main reason I wanted to read this book was because it was based upon real events. I enjoy reading non-ficiton and historical fiction and I felt like this book would be enjoyable. This book tackles dark events dealing with an established religious group and how the women must either come to terms with the status quo or make changes. As you can see from the description the status quo is not something I think many of us would want to endure.

I really enjoyed that the author did put this struggle into words and I feel like it could be applied to many other situations. While this story very dark and very extreme in its content, if you are triggered by rape or the discussion of it please do not read it boils down to women in a very bad situation determining if it is worth living with the devil you know, or chancing it with the devil you don't know in a world you don't understand. In other words,  you can either endure traumatic treatment and stay with what you know and fear, or go off and try to get away for your hope of a safe situation in a world you have no idea how to navigate. On top of that the fear of what might happen if you are not successful. Obviously, every situation is different and each needs to be thought of on its own merits, but I can appreciate that this author was willing to have a discussion about this.

What I Didn’t Like

I didn't like how slow paced this book was. I kind of had to push myself through it. I am not sure if this is because I was expecting a lot to happen based upon the description, but I felt that for the size of the book it was a slow mover. At times I felt it was rambling and I would grow bored.

Overall Thoughts

I feel like this was a good topic to discuss and should continue to be discussed. The topic was interesting for sure. I just don't know if the topic was enough for me to fully enjoy this book. For me personally I do not enjoy slow moving books that are more talk than action. So, I feel like if you enjoy that type of writing style, you would easily like this book more than I did.
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Good books have a feeling, a mood that's set each time you sit down to read them. That's what this book did for me. It's told simply, without a lot of frills, but manages to be engaging from beginning to end.
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I so desperately wanted to love this book. The premise sounded fascinating and unique, and about an important issue, especially in the me too era. However, it just wasn't for me. The male narrator felt off for a story about marginalized women. I also found it to be not well paced, particularly considering it's a short book. But just because it wasn't for me, doesn't mean it might not be for you.
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Important, Painful, Needed.

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 love women. #MeToo
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Maybe 4.5 stars? Regardless: what a book. 

Based on a true story, the entire novel is summed up by the title: women, who suffered horribly at the hands of men, discuss their future. At times this book felt urgent and real, like a gaping wound; small insights into the brutality of the attack, the day-to-day torment these women were forced to endure ratcheted up the tension in an already serious situation. At other points, the women's discussion would slide into the religious and philosophical, which makes sense considering the characters are deeply religious and isolated as part of their faith.
I think these conversations about faith and forgiveness -- which were entirely necessary and beautifully written -- are what's keeping from giving this a full 5 star review. Something about the speechifying felt a bit toothless, especially when compared with other sections of the book. 

I have a feeling this book will join "The Handmaid's Tale" in discussions about the world's treatment of women.
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I tried very hard to finish this book and unfortunately could not. I'm not sure if it was the mix of subject matter, writing style, and the decision for a male narrator, but I simply couldn't keep going. The writing style felt chaotic and rather than coming off intentional, it was messy and confusing. I know so many other readers have found this to be a wonderful read, but I am not one of them. I hesitated to mark it as 'dnf' on Goodreads because I tend to be stubborn about finishing books, but each time I went to pick it back up it felt too much like a chore. Thank you for the galley though!
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It seems odd to call a book about such a deep, disturbing topic as “good,” but this book is definitely well-written and much-needed in today’s cultural climate, where we’re still dealing with things like believing survivors of sexual assault and getting them justice. 

I first heard about the “ghost rapes of Bolivia” from a VICE News documentary of the same name. Available here: https://video.vice.com/da/video/ghost-rapes-of-bolivia-part-1/55a00d0ea2c7a4667d828cad - I was stunned. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing and wondered how the decisions of the townspeople can about and how the women were emotionally dealing with things in the aftermath, to only of their ordeal, but in the wake of the announcement by prominent church elders that they have chosen to forgive the rapists and would free them if possible. This book, written by Miriam Toews, a former Mennonite, attempts to answer those questions in an authentic and caring voice. 

The book is set-up as minutes from a meeting of the women of a fictional Mennonite colony, similar to the real-life Manitoba Colony, as they come together to decide whether to forgive the men of the colony who have assaulted more than 100 women and girls over a period of two years. The men have gone to free them from the local town, and they have until they return to decide whether to stay and forgive their tormentors, fight back or leave and start a new life elsewhere. The book is not action-based - it is the decision-making process of the women, as they grapple with their faith, their feelings and their fears. 

I was really blown away by how authentic the book felt and how the author didn’t just show the initial “Screw the bastards!” Feeling that I know i had when you hear the story of what’s been going on. Toews really delves into the complicated feelings and emotions surrounding an event that shakes the core of a community like this. 

I’m glad that we’re still talking about these women and that they haven’t been just forgotten and abandoned in the collective memory. This book shows the complicated emotions and situations that appear in a situation like this and really makes the women three dimensional people, rather than just statistics in a horrific series of crimes. 

Do yourself a favor and read this book and about the real-life events it is based on. I hope the real-life women find peace and that this begins an important dialogue about sexual assault and how to help survivors.
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Women Talking is a philosophical, beautifully-written exploration of faith, responsibility, and the choices women must make when their community relies on their labor to sustain itself. It goes beyond just sustenance, as the women are forced to endure horrible conditions, with the alternative being that the men in their lives, men who they love and make up their family and authority figures, would be forced to take responsibility for themselves. It's an interesting look at how far people are willing to go, what they will endure, to ensure that their lifestyle and faith, indeed the foundations of their lives, remain undisturbed.
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While this novel is classified as fiction, it is based on a true story and reads like something in between; it’s challenging material, and I’m still trying to wrap my head around it, but I definitely appreciate its value. 

This is, literally, a documentation of two long meetings between a group of Mennonite women; they are struggling to reframe their faith in light of the fact that many of them have recently been sexually abused by the men to whom they have always assumed they should show respect and submission in order to be faithful servants. 

Flaws aside, if you are looking for reading that asks and answers questions deep at the core of a woman’s intrinsic worth, that peels away the mantle covering subjugation within the patriarchy of traditional religion, then Women Talking is the kind of book that will stay with you long after you finish reading. I’m still thinking about it.
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I read this as background for a review that we ran on BookBrowse (written by a colleague). She rated it 4 stars. The review is at https://www.bookbrowse.com/reviews/index.cfm/book_number/3911/women-talking and has been sent to publicity.
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Yesterday was Independent Bookstore Day and I secured a signed copy of Women Talking by Miriam Toews! You can listen to a great interview with her on NPR. I received an ARC of it thanks to Netgalley, but hadn't gotten around to reading it yet so was super pleased with my find. One of my favorite Booktubers, Britta Bohler, also raved about it!

Women Talking is based on a true story of women in a Mennonite community in Bolivia who were the survivors of rape. Late in the night, men in the community would drug women and rape them so they would wake bruised and bloody, later developing STDs and often becoming pregnant. The women in the story meet in a hayloft for 48 hours to decide what to do. Will they do nothing, stay and fight, or do nothing? This is their story.

So, I love everything this book was trying to do. I loved that the author grew up Mennonite so she had experience with the culture she was writing about. I loved how you read about the rapes without reliving the details. That decision gives power to the women and not to the rapists. It was beautiful, inspiring, empowering, and yet, it was women talking. Portions of this book with rather slow. Maybe I read it at the wrong time, maybe I was in too much of a hurry... I liked it, but didn't love it. So please read it and let me know what you think!
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Fictionalized account of extremely horrific true events (though the actual council of elders / priests never gave the women a 'choice' to forgive the alleged rapists / perpetrators or leave the colony, but there was silence in the community at that time and since then, the victims / survivors afforded no support whatsoever, even after the convictions). 

Thanks to the publisher for the ARC.
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I really wanted to like this book but found that I was having a hard time getting interested.  The description of the book and the fact that is is loosely based on true events had me curious.
I began reading and found that I just didn't connect with any of the women or the narrator of the story.  I tried to read through more than 70 pages and just stopped.  The writing style was a bit "choppy" for my taste.
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Worth all the hype - I really enjoyed Women Talking and loved discussing it with others. I would definitely recommend this short, quick but beautiful book
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I really wish I could give a full review for this book, but the galley I received was such a jumble it was very difficult to read. I had to abandon it. I don't know if it was the original file or the Kindle conversion, but I don't think it was meant to look that way.
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No way around it, this book is a hell of a thing.

Toews' fictionalized account is based on real events that happened between 2005 and 2009 in the ultra-conservative Bolivian Manitoba Mennonite Colony in Canada. In the real-life version, over 130 women and young girls were repeatedly anesthetized --with a sedative spray typically used on animals-- assaulted, raped and, in some cases, impregnated, by men in the community.

This book is, in Toews' words, "an imagined response" to a similar situation - wherein in the women of the fictional Molostchna community meet and discuss their options after the men are arrested.

It's a stark scene. A small group of eight women, meeting in a barn. They're dressed as one might expect, in clothes of a time past. They sit on buckets or bales, their children crawl around in the hay, some vomit into buckets dealing with the ill-effects of unwanted pregnancy. Mostly, they're anxious, angry and conflicted. They recognize immediately how they are less in the community as women - they can't read or write, they don't own anything, they don't know geography or how to read a map, they don't know what lies beyond their community.

Toews, on behalf of the women, asks valid questions. Questions that no doubt passed through the minds of real-life women. Should they stay and fight? What would that look like if the very men who've assaulted them are still calling all the shots? Do they leave? Where would they go? How would they eat? How many of their children could they take? What would their husbands do? And, the most pointed option, stay and do nothing.

The book is narrated by August Epp, a young man and teacher who grew up in the community, was exiled with his family, and then later, was able to return in this somewhat shameful capacity. He is the only male ally represented and is brought in to take the minutes, occasionally provide clarification and (whether asked for or not) give the women as much support as they welcome. It's also an opportunity for August to get closer to his objet petit a - Ona, an unmarried, middle-aged woman, who was impregnated during the attacks. It's through August's eyes we see the deep hurt, frustration, and betrayal making its way through each woman. When discussing their faith, and whether they'd be adhering or blaspheming by whatever their decision, August thinks this is “the first time the women of Molotschna have interpreted the word of God for themselves.”

While these are certainly serious times in the community, it's not all darkness. Though the women are from the same community and generally abide by the same strict rules of faith, they find the power within each other due to their terrible circumstances. Moments of lightness happen within the more challenging moments - one mother's tip on how to guide a cherry stone out of a child's nose by sucking it out, and the occasional back and forth between women who have long been of different minds, now united in their desire to put an end to their silent victimhood.

By narrative structure alone, this book will not be for everyone. It's written mostly as a conversation - so those expecting long paragraphs of minute description will find it lacking. Those who stick around with a slightly different way of doing things will find the story for what it is, a deeply moving, sympathetic view on the aftermath of tragedy and the power in coming together.
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WOMEN TALKING is a unique book in that it’s primarily about a small group of  Mennonite women working through the best way to handle the patriarchal religious system that has created space for hundreds of them to be repeatedly raped by a group of men and asks them to forgive their rapists if they want to stay a part of society. It’s mostly a philosophical text that focuses on patriarchy, power, the meaning of faith v religion, and how to protect women and children. It’s based on real events as far as the repeated rapes of a group of Mennonite women and children, but it’s questions and discussion stretch much further. 

Who is a victim of patriarchy and how can we protect ourselves from the violence it enacts on the female body? What are we willing to sacrifice in order to keep our faith and beliefs intact? What aspects of our society have we accepted as truth only because we’ve been told as much by those in power? Lots to grapple with here and I’ll be thinking about the questions for a long time.
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This is the most powerful, poignant, and ferocious book I have read all year. This novel is based off a man who is writing down the secret meeting of 8 Mennonite women talking about their future, their families, and essentially their faith. They have experienced rage, love, and question their very being. I don't think I have ever opened a book with as much patriarchal violence and power that has left me feeling this emotional. 

I love this book for its sense of women rallying together and standing up for their right. Yet, at the same time, I hate book like this in general because there should be no reason women fear these ideas. What I mean is, we shouldn't have to fear that this happens/ could happen/ or is a reality to some. That is what makes this such a powerful read and one you won't be able to put down even after you've finished. 

"We are women without a voice. We are women out of time and place, without even the language of the country we reside in."
1. Do Nothing
2. Stay and Fight
3. Leave

Those are the choices these women have concluded to. Each woman can decide for herself. With only two days to decide while the men gather to town to bail the rapists from jail, these women are tested beyond what they thought was possible. Yet, what are they to their faith, to themselves if they continue this path? Are they truly strong enough to fight against the men who have controlled their every move for their life? If they leave, what about the ones they have to leave behind and where would they even go? 

"It is true that hunger and fear are the things we share with animals, not the intelligence that allows us to establish perspective or distance in order to better assess a situation."

These women have been through so much and have finally had the chance to come together to make some decisions about their future. They can't read, can't write, can't even speak words of the language of the country they live in. So leaving is the hardest thing with all the uncertainty it leads to. Yet, if they stay, how many more will die and suffer, what are they teaching their children about faith?

Women Talking is all about the minutes that these women are brainstorming their ideas, their emotions, their faith while it's all being written down by the only one they can trust who can. This is such a powerful novel, even for generations to come. Definitely needed in this time in our society as women are joining the #MeToo movement. Grab yourself a copy and take this emotional dive for yourself. You will feel like a fly on the wall of this barn loft as these women ponder their ideas and show their emotions. It's as if you are right there with them.
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