April 2019 Indie Next List
— Steve Mitchell, Scuppernong Books, Greensboro, NC
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Winner of the Brooklyn Public LIbrary Literary Prize for Fiction
Shortlisted for the Governor General's Award for Fiction
Shortlisted for the Reading Women Award
“This amazing, sad, shocking, but touching novel, based on a real-life event, could be right out of The Handmaid's Tale.” --Margaret Atwood, on Twitter
"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." --New York Times Book Review, Editor's Choice
One evening, eight Mennonite women climb into a hay loft to conduct a secret meeting. For the past two years, each of these women, and more than a hundred other girls in their colony, has been repeatedly violated in the night by demons coming to punish them for their sins. Now that the women have learned they were in fact drugged and attacked by a group of men from their own community, they are determined to protect themselves and their daughters from future harm.
While the men of the colony are off in the city, attempting to raise enough money to bail out the rapists and bring them home, these women—all illiterate, without any knowledge of the world outside their community and unable even to speak the language of the country they live in—have very little time to make a choice: Should they stay in the only world they’ve ever known or should they dare to escape?
Based on real events and told through the “minutes” of the women’s all-female symposium, Toews’s masterful novel uses wry, politically engaged humor to relate this tale of women claiming their own power to decide.
Named a Best Book of the Year By
THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW (Notable Books of the Year) * NPR.ORG* THE WASHINGTON POST * REAL SIMPLE * THE NEW YORK TIMES (PARUL SEHGAL'S TOP BOOKS OF THE YEAR) * SLATE * STAR TRIBUNE (MINNEAPOLIS-ST. PAUL) * LITHUB * AUSTIN CHRONICLE * GOOP* ELECTRIC LITERATURE * KIRKUS REVIEWS * JEZEBEL* BUSTLE * PUBLISHERS WEEKLY * TIME* LIBRARY JOURNAL * THE AV CLUB * MASHABLE * VOX *
Praise For Women Talking…
"A feminist manifesto that delicately unwraps the horror, but also bubbles with the love and wry humor that has endeared Toews to her readers . . . Toews’ celebrated novels are haunted by her upbringing, but she has never written with such heartbreak, or taken such sure aim at fundamentalism and its hypocrisies, as she does in her new book, Women Talking. . . Did I mention the book is funny? Wickedly so, with Toews’s brand of seditious wit" - The New York Times
"Miriam Toews is wickedly funny and fearlessly honest… She is an artist of escape; she always finds a way for her characters, trapped by circumstance, to liberate themselves." - The New Yorker
"Astonishing . . . a work of deep moral intelligence, a master class in ethics beautifully dressed as a novel. . . . The intelligence on display in Women Talking is as ferocious as it is warm." - NPR.org
"Lean, bristling . . . a remarkably layered and gripping story. . . The book’s confined setting and its tight timeframe combine to superb dramatic effect." - Wall Street Journal
"Astonishing . . . Toews, who has written often about her own Mennonite history, has told a riveting story that is both intensely specific and painfully resonant in the wider world. Women Talking is essential, elemental." - USA Today
"An astonishment, a volcano of a novel with slowly and furiously mounting pressures of anguish and love and rage. No other book I've read in the past year has spoken so lucidly about our current moment, and yet none has felt as timeless; the always-wondrous Miriam Toews has written a book as close to a Greek tragedy as a contemporary Western novelist can come." - Lauren Groff, author of Fates and Furies and Florida
"If there's any book published in 2019 that will endure as a masterpiece in the years to come, it's... Women Talking." - The AV Club
"Tender and funny... Distinct and alive." - Leslie Jamison, Bookforum
"[A] powerful and important book." - Real Simple
"Draws us into the lives of obscure people and makes their survival feel as crucial and precarious as our own." - The Washington Post
"Sharp and devastating… a testament to the power of women’s collective voices." - Buzzfeed
"Astonishing . . . Toews interjects a wry humor into these pages, a reflection of her characters and their outlook on life, at once earnest and ironic. . . . You leave a novel about violence and misogyny lifted up by the women and strangely hopeful." - Newsday
Bloomsbury Publishing, 9781635572582, 240pp.
Publication Date: April 2, 2019
About the Author
Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com
1. Women Talking begins with “A Note on the Novel” which explains that the story is a fictionalized account of real events. What is the difference between reading this novel versus reading a news story or nonfiction book about these events? What questions does Women Talking encourage readers to ask themselves about these events and the environment in which they occur?
2. The book is told through August Epp’s notes from the women’s meetings. Why does Toews choose Epp to narrate this story? How does his perspective, gender, and personal history affect the vantage from which the story is told?
3. The women frequently discuss the complexity of continuing to love many of the men in their community despite their fear and they contemplate the circumstances under which the men would be allowed to join them in their new society. In what ways does the novel explore questions about male experiences, perspectives, and culture?
4. Which of the options would you have taken if you were one of the women? Explain why. Consider the consequences and benefits of your choice. How would you convince the others to join you?
5. The book examines both sexual and domestic violence. How does the women’s environment and circumstances dictate how they understand, interpret, and, ultimately, deal with violence? How does this intersect with their religious faith and their beliefs about their place in the world?
6. Discuss the power of language and literacy. How would the women’s lives be changed if they could read? How does their ability to interpret the Bible for themselves change the women’s understanding of their future?
7. How does this novel engage with mainstream political and social conversations about women and their rights?
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