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For two days in 2009, eight women in a Mennonite colony hold a clandestine meeting in the hayloft of a local farmer’s barn. Present also is August Epp, a man who, along with his parents, had been excommunicated from the colony when he was a boy and had recently been given permission to return.

The group, three generations of women from two families, represented the women in the colony and had gathered to make a perilous decision. One of the women asked August to take the minutes of the meeting, though all of the women were illiterate and wouldn’t be able to read what he wrote.

As the women interact—discussing, praying, laughing, singing, arguing, crying, ranting, and consoling—their stories and those of other women in the colony emerge. Between 2005 and 2009, hundreds of girls and women had been sexually assaulted. Eight men had been arrested and brought to a city jail.

Meanwhile, the other men in the colony have gone to the city to post bail and bring the men home. The colony’s bishop, Peters, had told the women that if they would forgive the men upon their return, the women would be guaranteed a place in heaven. If they refuse to do so, they would have to leave the colony.

The women’s heartrending, fascinating, complex discussion—not theoretical or abstract, but distressingly practical and profoundly relevant—reveals the truth that their safety and very lives hang in the balance. They must decide: Will they stay and fight, or will they leave?

This novel for adults offers readers a window into a world of voiceless women who find their voices as they live “in the crucible of this crushing experiment”—a colony for the most part cut off from the world.

Based on true events, Women Talking is a powerful testament to the yearning for justice evident in those who are oppressed. Though the subject matter is painful and harrowing, author Miriam Toews doesn’t include graphic details. The book concludes on a surprising, authentically grace-filled note. (Knopf Canada; available in the U.S. in April 2019.)

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