Women Talking (Miriam Toews): between revenge and forgiveness

Canadian writer Miriam Toews’ novel, Women Talking, is based on true events that took place between 2005 and 2009 in a remote Mennonite colony in Bolivia. Miriam Toews knows what she is writing about, as she herself is of Mennonite descent. During this period, many women and girls woke up sore, bloodied and drowsy as a result of being assaulted during the night. Of course, these events were attributed to ghosts or demons, or even to the imagination of these women in an attempt to attract attention. It was later discovered that eight men from the colony had been drugging the women in order to rape them. In 2011 these men were sentenced to long prison terms

Women Talking and Mennonite women

The Mennonite movement is a religious movement founded in the 16th century by the Dutch priest Menno Simons. Mennonites are a branch of the Anabaptists. They are non-Catholic Christians who do not believe in early baptism and only accept baptism in adulthood. Their whole life is governed by strict adherence to the Bible with a lifestyle characterised by austerity and discipline. Mennonites have a tendency to avoid progress, using as little technology as possible, thus remaining “disconnected from the world”. They also have a very rudimentary education system and still maintain an indigenous language, Plautdietsch or “Low German”.

Review of the book Women Talking

libro ellas hablan de Miriam Toews

Miriam Toews takes these real events as the starting point for the fictionalisation of the future of these assaulted women in Women Talking. When these women discover their assailants, men from their own neighbourhood, they are arrested and taken to the city. While awaiting bail, which is not long in coming, eight of the abused women decide to meet in secret to try to decide what to do with their future. What are they supposed to do, should they forgive them as their beliefs dictate, should they respond with violence, and can some kinds of violence be justifiable? In short, choose between forgiveness or revenge

Illiteracy as an obstacle

The eight women protagonists of Women Talking do not have it easy. They can’t read or write. You have spent your life in that colony and you don’t even have access to a map. They don’t know what lies beyond, perhaps they haven’t even thought about it until then. A life of resignation, obedience and silence is all they have known. To the point that at some point they question whether they are not less important than the animals. If they will not have less of a voice than the animals.

The women will be assisted by August Epp (an excommunicated member who has been allowed to return to the colony), who will be in charge of drawing up the minutes of the assembly, at the request of one of the assaulted women. In just two days, these women will have to decide what they will do with their future and that of their children and, as they take the floor for the first time, they will begin to share their fears, desires and hopes as well as their impressions of justice, forgiveness and love

About the author (Miriam Toews)

Miriam Toews (Steinbach, Canada, 1964) is the author of eight books, including the non-fiction Swing Low: A Life (2000) and the novels Complicated Kindness (Anagrama, 2007) and All My Puny Sorrows (2014). She is the recipient of several awards including the Governor General’s Award for Fiction and the Rogers Writers Trust Fiction Prize.


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