Women Talking Summary & Study Guide

Miriam Toews
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Women Talking Summary & Study Guide Description

Women Talking Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Quotes and a Free Quiz on Women Talking by Miriam Toews.

The following version of this book was used to make the guide: Toews, Miriam. Women Talking. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2018.

In Women Talking, August Epp returns to his former home in Molotschna Colony after his release from prison in England. When August is a young boy, the colony bishop Peters Senior excommunicates August, his mother Monica and her husband from the colony. Shortly after arriving in England, Monica's husband leaves the family. Monica struggles to support herself and her son. She eventually falls ill and dies. As a young man, August becomes involved in various anarchist groups. During a protest in Hyde Park, he steals a police horse and the cops arrest and imprison him. After his release, he wanders aimlessly, spending a significant amount of time in the library. A particular librarian takes note of him and the two talk openly. After hearing August's story, the librarian encourages him to return to Molotschna and reestablish his relationship with his childhood friend, Ona Friesen.

Back in Molotschna, August works to convince the younger Peters to readmit him. With conditions, August reenters the colony and attempts to assimilate. Unrest, however, boils under the surface of the Molotschna community. Eight men are discovered for their heinous acts of violence against almost every single woman in the colony. Though the women suspected they were being attacked in the night, Peters assured them the marks on their body and their corresponding nightmares were only evidence of God's punishment for their sins. When one young woman catches her attacker in her room, the truth comes out. The man admits that he and seven others have been drugging the women with belladonna spray in their sleep and raping them. When the women attempt attacking them with a scythe, Peters moves the perpetrators to the city prison for their protection.

In the novel's narrative present, the remaining men leave Molotschna and head to the city, hoping to bail out the guilty eight and return them to the colony. Meanwhile, August grows despairing and considers killing himself. While out in the field with a gun, Ona finds him and keeps him from committing suicide. Though he does not reveal his plans to her, she suspects what he is up to. In order to keep him from harming himself, Ona tells him about the meeting she and the other women are holding in the hayloft, and asks that he take the minutes. Because August loves Ona, he agrees.

The majority of the narrative unfolds over the course of the two days the women spend conversing in secret. They primarily discuss their potential responses to the men's abuses. They decide they can either do nothing, stay and fight, or leave. For nearly the entirety of their time together in the hayloft, they argue about the pros and cons of each option. Their conversations frequently diverge into discussions of spiritual truths, philosophical questions, and moral obligations. August works to record their dialogues as best he can, admitting to the difficulties of keeping up with their pace, as well as with translating their words into English.

As he transcribes, August inserts thoughtful or pensive asides. At times, he reveals portions of his personal history; other times he speaks to his deep affection and longing for Ona. As the meeting continues, the women finally decide they must leave Molotschna and set to preparing provisions for their journey. When they find out the men plan on returning to the colony in search of the livestock, their plans intensify.

Not long after, Klaas, a woman named Mariche's husband, returns, demanding to know what the women are up to. They tell a series of lies to cover the true nature of their meetings and keep their plans secret. After drugging Klaas for an oral surgery, another of the women, Agata, steals his buggy and fills it with provisions. Meanwhile two of the younger girls Autje and Neitje secure the safety of their horses by sleeping with two men from the neighboring colony.

After Klaas leaves to return to the city, the women finalize their plans and load the carriage for departure. August is left alone in the hayloft to reflect on the women's absence, all that they have shared during the meetings, and all he has learned from them. He realizes that just as they have left Molotschna in search of peace and purpose, he returned to the colony for the same reasons.

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