The latest from the bestselling Canadian author features eight women living in an isolated Mennonite colony in Bolivia, where they and other women and girls have been violated in the night for two years by what the men in the colony say are demons. But when they discover their violators are actually those same men, they must decide whether to leave the only home they've ever known and enter the unfamiliar world outside.
... astonishing ... Despite the beauty of Toews' prose and the constant, delicate humor of August's self-effacing perspective, I resisted [August as the narrator], and by extension the novel, for as long as I could. Why, I kept thinking, is a man telling this story? Why can't the women tell it themselves? But soon I understood: Women Talking reverses the patriarchal structure under which these women live. Until this moment, intellectual discourse in Molotschna has been reserved for men. Now, women's ideas are the center, and they get to make a man write them down ... though Toews' writing is simple and often funny, her ideas are difficult in the extreme ... Toews' emphasis on names and definitions serves to highlight how precise her own writing is, and how smart. The intelligence on display in Women Talking is as ferocious as it is warm. Women Talking is a profoundly intelligent book. It is an indictment of authority and a defense of belief.
... scorching ... Women Talking is a wry, freewheeling novel of ideas that touches on the nature of evil, questions of free will, collective responsibility, cultural determinism and, above all, forgiveness ... [The womens'] conversation is loose, unpredictable, occasionally profane and surprisingly funny ... By loosening the tongues of disenfranchised women and engaging them in substantive dialogue about their lives, Toews grants them agency they haven’t enjoyed in life. By refusing to focus on the crimes that launched this existential reappraisal, she treats them as dignified individuals rather than props in a voyeuristic entertainment. The only problem with this approach is that the grotesque and bizarre crime wave that launches the narrative remains all but unfathomable. It looms in the background, begging to be dramatized and explained. You don’t need an appetite for the salacious to want to know how a handful of men could rape dozens of women in a close-knit community, year after year, undetected. And you can appreciate this smart novel of ideas while also wanting to know how the women might have felt about this profound and intimate betrayal even before they started talking.
... less an indignant manifesto about sexual trauma, or a speculative celebration of female empowerment, than it is a confession of violence as something stitched into the fabric of every community, and an exploration of what it means to claim communal thought—even disagreement itself—as an inalienable human right ... crackles with the energy of consciousness on every page. Its attention is tender and funny, its characters utterly distinct and alive ... The novel is deeply aware of how this simultaneity—the weighty sitting shoulder to shoulder with the daily—is especially inescapable for women ... Toews doesn’t just allow the trivial to live alongside the weighty, she insists on it...By refusing to segregate the mundane from the consequential, Toews implicitly argues that what we call trivial often isn’t trivial at all—that just as much truth lives inside those small moments of care and grace as in our grand philosophizing about authority and justice—and allows her characters to come to life as more than helpless victims or walking thesis statements ... resists false binaries at every turn. Profundity and banality are entangled ... This novel knows that truth: Violence is something more systemic than a few rapists; more like a wildfire than a small burn contained to a few toxic bodies you can lock away for good ... holds the persistence of their grace while refusing to make false promises about the redemption or vindication waiting for them beyond its final page.