I really appreciate Toews’ style choices in this book. It’s told as meeting minutes taken by the only man left in the colony (and the only one who knows how to write), who is also somewhat of an outsider. I really enjoy stories that are told in an unconventional manner, so the minutes’ format appealed to me from the beginning and I think Toews was very successful in its use. I enjoyed all of the characters, although I feel like characterization was secondary to the philosophical side of the book.
This isn’t really a character-driven or plot-driven novel, so if you’re looking for one of those things, you’ll probably find it slow. It is, as it says, made up only of women talking. We’re listening in on their discussion of how to proceed given their horrific circumstances, which leads them to discuss what I think is the best part of the book – a very philosophical look at the nature of forgiveness and the responsibility for protecting oneself and one’s children. Toews addresses these big ideas from a religious standpoint, which is something that I don’t think we see often in any writing and which I really enjoyed. Being put in the place of the women who are struggling to decide how to proceed really highlighted the ethical and moral dilemma (not to mention the practical dilemma) of how to protect themselves in a patriarchal colony where women have very little voice.
I ate this book up. I think I read it in two sittings. It’s not that it’s a page-turner in terms of plot, but I was just fascinated by the author’s take on a very conservative and patriarchal religious sect in an extreme situation and the ethical side of the women’s dilemma. If you’re interested in religion or the topic of forgiveness or philosophical novels, this is one you must read.
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?