There are some novels that just feel important when you read them, and “Women Talking” was just that way for me. Based on real events, the novel focuses on a group of women in a Mennonite colony in Bolivia who 10 years ago began waking up in the mornings having been assaulted. Because women are like second class citizens (see “Handmaid’s Tale”), they are told they are dreaming or are being punished by Satan. Later they learn it was a group of men in their own community who were spraying them with an animal sedative while they slept, and then beating and raping them. These events (affecting ages 3-65) are truly horrifying, but Toews brings grace and strength to the story by creating a fictional account of how the women would have worked to process their trauma. While the novel sometimes reads like more of a philosophical discussion, I was completely drawn into their plight. Do they leave their only home and risk making it alone in the outside world (even though they’re unable to read even a map)? Or do they try to forgive and forget what was done to them? Although it’s difficult to read, Toews never descends into salacious details, selectively including only some of the most painful and poignant moments the women experienced (many of them in the aftermath). This book is, in short, a powerful read, and one that will stick with me for a long time.
*Free ARC provided by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review*