I heard about this book and sought it out. Set in an insular Mennonite community in Bolivia, and loosely inspired by true events, the book is written by Miriam Toews, who grew up in a Canadian Mennonite community. I appreciate glimpses into cultures so different from mine, and particularly from an insider who understands that unique perspective.
The real-life news that inspired the story is tragic. Mennonite women, who are deliberately uneducated and insulated from the world, were secretly dosed with a knock-out drug used on farm animals and sexually abused for years by men in their own colony. Their stories of waking up to bruises and pains were not taken as valid, and instead attributed to ‘demons’, until enough compared stories and, finally, men were caught sneaking in.
The author uses this as the starting point for her story. It forms the catalyst to ask many questions that women in such a community must have. The women meet to narrow down their options, examine their faith, and consider what to do about the men when they and their daughters can be treated in this way. The men of the community have gone to town to bail out the rapists.
This short book reminds me of a play, with a small set of speakers in a space talking at length. The format probably made it easier to translate onto the screen. A movie will be coming out soon with several well-known actresses. However, the discussion format, and lack of action, isn’t what I normally think of for movie releases. I hope the movie finds support.
I look forward to seeing the movie. It feels like the time is right to have the discussions that we never get to hear. Women of faith, who have suffered, but who want to do what is right, makes for compelling drama. What’s more, we hope for the best for them while having no confidence that their society will allow for the kind of future we’d like to see.
I had to know so I looked around the internet. It seems as if the results of the women’s discussion in the book don’t match reality. It is difficult to reconcile that these events take place in the modern age and involved over a hundred women. Yet, the women in the real-life story didn’t even get to testify at trial; according to what I read, the men in their community spoke for them.
The best thing about this book is that it makes us aware of what still goes on in the world.