Book nook: Women Talking


courtesy New York Times

In the 19th century, a woman speaking her mind would be brushed off as hysteria. Speaking in opposition to a man; insanity. The term “hysterical woman” is centuries old, and is still used to this day.

Women Talking by Miriam Toews, tackles the haunting true events that took place in the Manitoba Colony in Bolivia in 2009

The women of the town wake up each morning, bruises covering their skin and aches throughout their bodies. The men of the colony brush it off, telling the women that ghosts and demons have invaded their homes and hurt them while they slept. However, it is discovered that the same men would give animal anesthesia to their female counterparts as they slept, and then sexually assault them. The colony elders realize that they can’t handle the situation and call the police to assist, which is a controversial act, as the colony disapproves of communication with outside societies.

Following these assaults, the colony elders give the women affected a choice — they can either forgive their aggressors and secure their spot in heaven, or not forgive them, and leave the colony, giving up their chance at a “peaceful afterlife.”

The eight victims across two families gather in a barn to discuss their plan of action. Should they forgive the men and fight, or flee ensuring their safety? 

The story is narrated by Manitoban August Epp, excommunicated from the colony with his parents when he was young. After being imprisoned after a protest in London, August decides to return to Manitoba Colony, and teach the boys who lived there how to speak English. 

Margaret Atwood, author of The Handmaid’s Tale, wrote about the similarities between Women Talking and her own novel. Women Talking speaks about bravery and loyalty, as well as strength and courage. The women in both stories fear for their lives, as well as their morality. They are scared of the consequences that may befall them on both ends  — if they forgive, or refuse to do so. 

This fear doesn’t exist in a vacuum; it occurs in thousands of cases throughout the world. Women Talking reminds its readers that they are not alone; there are people who will support them and care for them. It reminds women that they are not hysterical; they are not what history deems as crazy. They can be free. Nolite te bastardes carborundorum.