I ended up pre-ordering this novel based on llp’s review of this last year. It was published in Canada long before the Kindle version was available in the United States because I didn’t even remember what this was about by the time it downloaded onto my reader.
Toews wrote this novel as a fictional reaction to the horrifying events that happened in a Mennonite community in Bolivia. I had actually read about the rapes that had plagued the women of the community before llp’s review. I think it may have been due to this Vice article but it could have easily been from another source.
She centers the novel around two families of women, each representing three generations, as they seclude themselves in a barn loft to discuss what to do next. Some women in the community have already decided to simply move on, and let it be, but these women are not sure if they can forgive. The men of their community are on their way to the city to pick up the eight rapists, and they expect the women to forgive their tormentors when they return. As the women see it, they can stay and accept the status quo, they can stay and fight, or they can leave.
They spend two days in the loft discussing the pros and cons of each option, and eventually begin planning for the one they choose. Those two days open up some many issues about their religion, their beliefs, how they interact with their children, and the men in their lives, some of whom are the abusers. It’s the women that showed anger about the men’s actions, but no where in here do the women even reference a husband, brother or father that was angry enough about what was done to their family members to attack the men.
Can the women ever feel safe again? Can they truly forgive? Can they practice their religions if they leave? Can they truly be following their religion if they stay around men they can’t forgive in more than word?
One lone man is witness to all these deliberations, because the women wanted a record and they are illiterate. August is a bit of an outsider. His parents were excommunicated, and they moved to London, so August has had a large level of exposure to the outside. He returned to Manitoba because he felt something was missing, but he is not respected in the way the other men of the community are, and the women are actually willing to trust him enough to hear their discussions.
This was a short novel but not an easy read. It addresses questions of gender and religion, and is conversation based. It’s not the kind of novel where I would say I enjoyed it because it was such a dark subject matter, but it is a worthy read if someone thinks they might want to learn about these types of issues.