Women Talking by Miriam Toews

The Stacks received Women Talking from the publisher. For more information click here.

Women Talking is just that, a book about women talking, it is also so much more. Between 2005-2009 women in a Mennonite community in Bolivia were drugged and raped by a group of men in their colony, Women Talking is inspired by these events, and imagines a secret meeting between eight women and one man (their note taker, and our narrator) in a barn on the colony where they debate their options. Do they stay and fight or leave their home?

What is remarkable about this book is Toews’ ability to present multiple nuanced arguments for both staying and leaving, and never fully force us to pick one. She allows her reader space to understand the many sides without asking us to make the ultimate value judgement on what is right and wrong. What is the thing that must be done. Which, in a piece about rape and violation, seems like the most obvious choice, but going against that impulse is what keeps Women Talking interesting instead of predictable. She gives her characters the contradiction we so often resist in ourselves and those around us. She gives her characters the permission to be right and wrong in the same breath.

Toews is a professional writer, and it shows in the book. Her use of craft and nuance and the patience within the story make for an emotional (if not anxious) read. You’re never quite sure where she is taking you. She infuses Women Talking with the humor that is real and truthful in the face of trauma, but she does not shy away from the brutal unexpected pain that is also true when one is faced with the realization that they never have been, nor never will be safe. She complicates all of this by giving us a male narrator who is non-threat to the women. He is an interpreter for us and for the women, it is a layer that is practical and provoking.

Women Talking feels like a long conversation, a debate, a back and forth that never fully settles. Mostly this feels intentional, but there is a part of the book that feels safe in the unanswerable questions. Toews allows her readers to come to their own thoughts, but that also allows the reader to hide in their own biases. It is easy to be on the side of the women in the story, and it is easy to say these acts are heinous, but there is never a true call to respond, there is never a true call to react. Women Talking lacks the potency to make a point that feels somewhere out of reach. I am not sure what the take away from this story was, perhaps just that pain is part of life and we must carry on and find the joy in these things. Or maybe, that we all have the power to make choices for ourselves. These messages are true, but not particularly potent or urgent in this moment, or in the scope of the story.

Overall I enjoyed reading this book though I felt slightly underwhelmed when it was all said and done. I loved reading Toews’ story and her thinking and sensing her mulling over the questions she was asking through her characters. I’m not sure if she, or we, or they, every get to the answers, and perhaps none of us ever will.

Click here to hear Miriam Toews on The Short Stacks discussing Women Talking and more.

  • Hardcover: 240
  • PublisherBloomsbury Publishing (April 2, 2019)
  • 3/5 stars
  • Buy Women Talking Amazon or IndieBound

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The Short Stacks 11: Miriam Toews//Women Talking

On this episode of The Short Stacks our guest is award-wining author, Miriam Toews. We are discussing her new book, Women Talking, which is inspired by true events of a series of rapes within a Mennonite community in Bolivia. We talk about the differences between a first and eighth book, what other jobs Miriam might like to have, and what authors you should check out if you likeWomen Talking. There are no spoilers today.

Get your copy of Women Talking, or any book mentioned on today’s episode, on IndieBound, and support your local bookstore.

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The Stacks received Women Talking from the publisher. For more information click here.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website, and this comes at no cost to you. This in no way effects opinions on books and products reviewed here. For more information click here.

March 2019 Reading Wrap-Up

March was all about the backlist. I went on an amazing vacation and took a bunch of books I had been wanting to read for a long time, and I read them! What a treat. I really enjoyed almost everything I read in March. My stand out was Assata by Assata Shakur and the low-light was Love’s Labour’s Lost by William Shakespeare. What were your favorites this month? Also worth noting, I read my first books on a Kindle, and I survived.

You can find my reading month by the numbers and short reviews of everything I read below.


March by the Numbers

Total Books Read: 10
Audiobooks: 1
E-Books: 2
Five Star Reads: 1
Unread Shelf: 6
Books Acquired: 12

By Women Authors: 6
By Authors of Color: 3
By Queer Authors: 1
Nonfiction Reads: 8
Published in 2019: 2


Assata: An Autobiography by Asssata Shakur

(Photo: amazon.com)

In the story of her life, Assata Shakur lets her reader in on her childhood, her relationship with the Black Liberation Movement, and her arrest and imprisonment. The prose are conversational and the content is enraging and devastating. Not only is this book a look back at the past, it is also a very clear indictment on the current state of affairs in The United States.

If nothing else, Assata is a reminder of the struggle for Black equality that has spanned centuries, and the lengths the American government will go to stifle that quest. Racism, abuse, torture, and human rights violations are all part of Assata’s story, and the story of this struggle. She exposes corruption in the criminal justice system and even in The Black Panther Party. She is unapologetic and easy to connect with. I thoroughly enjoyed learning about a figure I had heard of, but really knew so little about, though there were times I’d wished she was more forthcoming with her own revolutionary activities, and the reasons why she might have been targeted by the police. The fact that this book is still so relevant over 30 years after it’s publication is a reminder of how much work needs to be done. I highly suggest this book for people who love a good memoir and people interested in the history of social justice movements, though I caution there are very graphic scenes of abuse through out the book.

Five Stars | Lawrence Hill Books | November 1, 2001 | 320 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound


Experiments in Joy by Gabrielle Civil

The Stacks received this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. For more information click here.
(Photo: amazon.com)

A book unlike anything I’ver ever read, Experiments in Joy mixes the genre of memoir with the artist’s performance notes, letters, and cultural criticism into a book that encapsulates both the artist and the art. Civil is a performance artist, professor, and poet, and this book is a reflection on some of her pieces and her way of seeing the world and her place in it. In addition to Civil’s own words, there are conversations and letters from her collaborators and reviewers to deepen the readers understanding of the work.

I didn’t always connect with the book, but I felt deeply that the context given helped me to better understand Civil as a creative and an activist. The book is truly a glimpse at how one creates. The sections in which she gave context before or after laying out the performance pieces were my favorite along with the book reviews. To understand how the artist works and why is captivating for me and brought the performance notes to life. Civil is a beautiful writer, and her letters especially show her skills. For any lover of the arts this book as a unique look into process over product.

Three Stars | Civil Coping Mechanisms | February 15, 2019 | 276 Pages | Paperback |Purchase on IndieBound
Hear Gabrielle Civil on The Stacks discussing her book (Ep. 55) and Wild Beauty by Ntozake Shange (Ep. 56), and find a full review of Experiments in Joy HERE.


Hiroshima Nagasaki: The Real Story of the Atomic Bombings and Their Aftermath by Paul Ham

(Photo: amazon.com)

Paul Ham uses contemporaneous documents, reflections after the fact, and critical thinking in Hiroshima Nagasakito take down the conventional thinking about the use of nuclear weapons on Japan in 1945. This book is a fantastic work of nonfiction and does a great job of analyzing and deconstructing these acts of extreme violence

For 60+ years America has pushed a narrative about the “need” to drop an atomic bomb on a civilian target in order to avenge Pearl Harbor and/or to prevent “millions” of future US casualties. This book looks deeper into that idea and debunks much of reasoning that was flawed and so easily accepted by Americans and all of history. If you love history, politics, and smart writing, I would highly recommend Hiroshima Nagasaki. Though this book can be dense at parts (especially the first 100 pages) and lacks a real introduction for those not familiar with this moment in time, Ham’s writing is extremely readable. He mixes politics with humanity and covers many facets of these bombings its not all Harry Truman, it is also very much about the victims. I learned a lot about World War II, and was able to see the political maneuvering that America took part in that led to hundreds of thousands of deaths.

Four Stars | Picador; Reprint edition | August 4, 2015 | 641 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound


Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly by Anthony Bourdain

(Photo: amazon.com)

A vivid look at the culinary industry from the perspective of chef, Anthony Bourdain. This book is part memoir and part expose in which Bourdain shares what to never order from a restaurant and what the kitchen thinks of people who order a well done steak. It is an approachable book and an easy read.

Throughout Kitchen Confidential Bourdain seems hell bent on shocking his reader. He loves talking about sex, blood, and drugs. Its a little over played and can be cringeworthy at moments. There also seems to be a little self-congratulation around his relationships with his Latinx coworkers/employees. I was not familiar with Bourdain in life, and since his passing I am just barely more informed on his life and contributions. There was little sentimentality for me in reading this work and much of my criticisms come from who he presents himself as in this book, a bit of a know it all. Though I will say, his heart and passion come through loud and clear and I loved those moments of the book most.

I enjoyed reading this book, but 20 years after its first publication, I don’t know if the tone and approach stand the test of time. If you love Bourdain or want something a little rough and tumble you might really enjoy this one.

Three Stars | Bloomsbury USA; 1 edition | December 10, 2008 | 321 Pages | E-Book |Purchase on IndieBound


Love’s Labour’s Lost by William Shakespeare

(Photo: amazon.com)

In Love’s Labour’s Lost we meet a King and his male courtiers who take a pledge to become celibate, but then, of course, they meet some women and fall in love. The show revolves around the men trying to secretly get the women to love them despite the oath. While most of Shakespeare’s comedies are trivial, this one is nonsensical. There is a lot of disguise and mix ups that are confusing to read and not particularly necessary or interesting.

The only part of this play that I found remotely intriguing is the ending, in which the women finally get some power and put their feet down. I don’t want to spoil it, but it is a twist and makes some interesting points about duty over desire and the idea of reciprocity in relationships.

I wouldn’t suggest this play to anyone, but it might be more fun to see than read. The language is confusing and the there really isn’t much action at all.

One Stars | Penguin Classics; Reprint edition | June 5, 2000 | 160 Pages | Paperback |Purchase on IndieBound


New Erotica for Feminists: Satirical Fantasies of Love, Lust, and Equal Pay by Caitlin Kunkel, Brooke Preston, Fiona Taylor, Carrie Wittmer

(Photo: amazon.com)

A book of quippy erotic fantasies of women being treated equal, or better than equal, to men. A world in which Ruth Bader Ginsburg is immortal, and Juliet tells Romeo off for being so love sick. While the idea is fun and smart, the execution left me wanting more.

The best and most effective satire calls out inequality by speaking truth to power and by forcing the audience to question their own complicity in the power structure. This book fails to do that. It seems to be content just being cute. It relies on the “erotica” to do a lot of the heavy lifting. The authors attempt to address intersectionality in the introduction, but then spend the rest of the book trivializing the aggression of men instead of addressing it head on. The book fits nicely into the White capitalist patriarchy as a piece of protest, meaning it is a safe way for women to vent without really forcing a deeper discussion at the issues at play.

If you’re looking for a light palate cleanser, this is might be a good choice, plus you can read it in about 90 minutes, but if you want something more biting I think there are other books to go to.

Two Stars | Plume | November 13, 2018 | 160 Pages | Paperback |Purchase on IndieBound


People Who Eat Darkness: The True Story of a Young Woman Who Vanished from the Streets of Tokyo–and the Evil That Swallowed Her Up by Richard Lloyd Parry

(Photo: amazon.com)

A true crime story about a White British woman who goes missing in Tokyo in 2000 and all that unfolds there after. The book looks at the crime, the family and their grief, the media and their coverage, and the police and their ability to figure out what happened.

What makes such a solid work of true crime is that the author, a journalist, is weaving many elements of this story together in an extremely readable way. The writing is no frills, but the story is full of surprises and is totally engaging. Parry is, for the most part, objective and helps the reader understand the cultural differences that makes this case unique . Plus the story itself is captivating, the book is over 400 pages but you want to read it in one sitting. I loved the commentary on race, class, culture, and gender throughout the book and would have liked even more. Getting to understand a criminal justice system that is so different than my own (that of The United States) was fascinating. Parry does a great job as our guide into a world I’d never known. If you like true crime, you’ll enjoy this book, though be warned there are trigger warnings for sexual assault and violence.

Four Stars | Farrar, Straus & Giroux; Reprint edition | May 22, 2012 | 454 Pages | Paperback |Purchase on IndieBound


White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin Diangelo

(Photo: amazon.com)

To articulate the fragility and toxicity of Whiteness to White people is one the the greatest challenges of anti-racism work, and in White Fragility Robin DiAngelo does just that methodically. This book is a take down of racist ideas and the entrenched denial around White supremacy.

White Fragility is admittedly written for White people by a White woman. DiAngelo is very clear in that, though, as a Black woman I found a lot of valuable insights in both how I can do better as I work toward anti racism and how I can approach uncomfortable situations with White people. I was able to understand the socialization of White people better, and to understand the tactics used to reinforce racism in our society.

This book is a great tool in any anti-racist’s tool box, along side one of my all time favorites, Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi. If you’re serious about the work this book helps to explain one road block that is often encountered, White Fragility.

Four Stars | Beacon Press | June 26, 2018 | 6 Hours 12 Minutes | Audiobook |Purchase on IndieBound


Wild Beauty: New and Selected Poems by Ntozake Shange

(Photo: amazon.com)

Reading Wild Beauty, was a new experience for me. I am familiar with Shange’s play, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf, but had never read a poetry collection until now. I enjoyed some of the poems and others I didn’t resonate with. Her style is rough and evocative and at times even felt like a call to action.

These poems are a look at the career of Shange as they span 40 years of her work. I started to notice which ones were from older collections and which were more recent. As with any collection some of the material connected with me and some didn’t. There were poems where I was stunned by the story, or moved by the language. There were also poems that I would zone out and have to read over and over and still felt like I missed the message. For someone who is new to poetry, I enjoyed this collection and I am really looking forward to discussing it on The Stacks on April 24th.

Three Stars | Atria / 37 INK; Bilingual edition | November 17, 2017 | 288 Pages | Hardcover |Purchase on IndieBound
Wild Beauty is TSBC pick for April 24. You can hear the TSBC episode with Gabrielle Civil HERE. Read a full review of Wild BeautyHERE.


Women Talking by Miriam Toews

The Stacks received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. For more information click here.
(Photo: amazon.com)

One night eight Mennonite women gather to discuss their options and response to the repeated drugging and sexual assaults of themselves, their daughters, and the other women in their community. The book is written from as notes taken during these meetings and is inspired by true events.

Women Talking is a lot of just that, women talking. It is theoretical and examines the ideas of loyalty, faith, and safety. It is a feminist text in that it explores the equality of women and their rights to be alive and to have a say in their own lives. I really enjoyed the writing. I was hooked early and wanted to know what would happen in the end. I also found the use of the minutes to be irritating at times because it was a lot of back and forth interpreted by our scribe/narrator (who is a man, which added an element of conflict).

If you like fiction thats a little different, if you’re interested in religious communities and the role that women play in conservative spaces, this book is a great selection. Women Talking has been compared to Handmaid’s Tale which makes a lot of sense, but neglects the fact that Women Talking is based on true events (the assaults not the meeting) which makes it that much more devastating.

Three Stars | Bloomsbury Publishing | April 2, 2019 | 240 Pages | Hardcover |Purchase on IndieBound
You can hear more from Miriam Toews about her process on Episode 11 of The Short Stacks.


To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page (https://www.patreon.com/thestacks). We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of The Stacks.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website, and this comes at no cost to you. This in no way effects opinions on books and products reviewed here. For more information click here.