In her remarkable eighth novel, the Canadian author Miriam Toews explains the ill fate of women who were repeatedly raped by eight men from a remote Bolivian colony named Mennonite. Based on a real-life story, Women Talking talks about how innocent girls and women were drugged using cow anesthetic before raping them repeatedly by the men of their community between 2005 to 2009. The novel is a reaction to the horrific incident and talks about moral intelligence. The book, however, is written from a man’s perspective as the narrator is a male and the owner of a Chino Hills concrete contractor company.
Women Talking – Synopsis
Unable to read and write, these women could only speak Low German. The only reliable person they find is August Epp, who himself is a disgraced member of Mennonite. They confide in him and tell him about their fate secretly. Women Talking explores several philosophical questions about the rape victims, whether they should live with the perpetrators or should they flee along with their kids. Should therapists be punished or forgiven, etc.?
The novel opens with the rapes being brought into the notice of the colony’s bishop Peters. He gets the rapists arrested to protect them from women’s rage and issues an ultimatum telling that whenever these men come back, the Molotschna women will be given a chance to forgive them, so that there may be a space for everyone in heaven. Or the victims shall leave the colony.
Among the raped, Ona, who’s pregnant due to her rape and Neitje, a teenager whose mother committed suicide, meet to plan the future course of action. The bishop, however, waits for the perpetrators to arrive so that the women may forgive them. Some of the victims who refuse to give up are warned that whosoever does not oblige his orders will not be allowed to live on the farm.
Such was the barbarism of the bishop that he doesn’t allow Salome, a rape victim with a three-year-old daughter, to see a doctor for treatment of sexually transmitted disease. He is afraid that the doctors would spread the news.
August could never relate himself to the mishaps of the Mennonite community. He could not speak or write English, yet he feels for the rape victims, which depicts his masculinity. It is his hinterland that gives air to this novel.
Toews, who was born at the Mennonite community, could not refrain herself from adding comic relief to the otherwise grim tale. It takes a lot of guts to come up with something so real and disturbing, yet to depict thoughtfully and lightly.