CBR15PASSPORT (Stamp #3: Books from different countries. Set in Bolivia about a Mennonite community written by a Canadian.)
This book is a lot. Whatever triggers you have will be triggered. Toew’s novel is based on a real-life series of sexual assaults that occurred at a Mennonite colony in Bolivia in 2005. The victims ranged in age from 3 to 65 and the assailants were their friends and family members. Drugged with animal tranquilizers, the women would wake bloodied and bruised with no recollection of what had taken place. The women were told that they were plagued by demons.
Troew’s novel begins after the women realize what has been happening to them. Some men are spotted by one of the victims when she wakes to see them climbing out of her bedroom window. The leader of their community has the men arrested after one of the women attacks them with a scythe. He has them arrested to protect them from the women. Yes, you read that right. While the rest of the men are away in the city trying to secure bail for those assholes, a handful of the victims gather together in a hay loft to discuss what they should do. Forbidden to read or write, the women enlist a man who is considered an outsider by the other men in their community to take notes at their meeting. They debate three options: to stay and forget, to stay and fight, or to leave. The bulk of the novel is this discussion between eight women from two families.
This book reads very much like a play. It’s a mostly static setting in the hayloft and, except for bits of narration and exposition from the man taking notes, the book is a dialogue between the women. The women here are a FORCE. What makes this book so powerful isn’t the unimaginable horror of having been continually sexually assaulted by trusted neighbors, friends, and family. It’s how a group of illiterate women, stifled by the religious beliefs and laws of their male-dominated community, gather together to have a methodical and logical discussion about it. They not only debate about what their next steps should be but about how they can build a better community going forward. How they can teach their sons to be better men. All of it is done under the constant threat of retaliation and the heartbreaking awareness that they may have to leave their sons, brothers, and husbands behind to forge a better community without them.