By Miriam Toews
“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.” (From GoodReads)
What happened at book club…
What a time. This book is light and funny and an all round feel good read. Or at least that’s what we thought we’d get from tonight’s host. But noooooo… this was not that.
Women Talking by Miriam Toews is heavy to read, heavy to think about and just heavy. None of us could say we ‘liked’ the book, but we were all glad to have read it. The subject matter, based on a real Mennonite community in Bolivia, is difficult. There’s no neat little bow at the end – no matter how much we wanted one. The reader is essentially eavesdropping on a secret discussion of women, who have been abused and violated in the worst kind of way , trying to figure out their way forward – whether to leave in the darkness of night or stay and face their abusers and hope to make a change from within. It’s not straight forward.
These women can’t read or write, have no knowledge of anything outside their own isolated village and fear their taking matters in their own hands will be against the laws of God. They also struggle against their own self worth – are they mere animals, property? And their duty – how do they leave their adolescent sons behind. Reading the book makes you want to scream in parts …. friggin’ GOOOOOOOOOOO. But we’re not them…
This book made for a great discussion. So many topics – religion and faith, power and powerlessness, the freedom to choose – whatever the choice, the strength of women. But there were even more important discussions to come: Leaving your shoes on in someones house – don’t be at it, or what odds? Will the salt pile be restored and if so will we be invited back to see it? Quakers, what’s that all about? So many questions not enough time.
Thank you to our wonderful host for letting us all stare out her window for the first 30 minutes and for all the yummy snacks. Thanks too for finally sharing the napkins (not papertowels, napkins… right fancy). Sorry for making so much noise and ringing your neighbors bell on the way out. Alison’s some bad.
It was a wonderful night and a great discussion. Here’s a final thought to leave you with (all of you in the porch or anyone within a 5km earshot will understand):