Recently finished both Women Talking by Miriam Toews and Mirror, Shoulder, Signal by Dorthe Nors (translated from Danish).  The two don’t have a ton in common, but there is a tight focus on women figuring out their options.

Women Talking is an intense book. It’s based on the true events which happened in the Manitoba Colony of Mennonites in Bolivia; men in the colony were spraying a veterinary sedative on entire families and then raping women and girls. This happened for YEARS to at least 130 victims. Towes’ novel envisions the conversations between some of the women when they are briefly alone in the colony (most of the men have gone to the city to bail out the perpetrators).

The women in the novel are illiterate, and so they appoint a man they trust (somewhat) to record their meeting. This is kind of an interesting choice by Towes, because it means that the entire novel about how all these women feel, is conveyed to the reader through a first person man’s perspective. I didn’t necessarily dislike this, but it struck me as an interesting choice — ultimately we learn more about why one of the women asked the man to write the record for them (but I won’t spoil that), and that makes things make a bit more sense.

Interestingly, the novel is not a response to the #MeToo movement, but was actually written before that really became a national conversation — particularly because at one point one woman does actually say that “Not all men” were involved. It is a very philosophical book though, the entire novel is just two days of the women talking (as advertised) about forgiveness, about how society should work, about love and how they can show love for their children and their community.  They are trying to figure out whether they should do nothing, leave, or stay and fight (which isn’t really an option since they’re pacifists, although they discuss their anger).

Not a happy book, but a powerful one that I was glad I read.

On a very different end of the spectrum, Mirror, Shoulder, Signal tells the story of Sonja a woman over 40 living in Copenhagen and making a living translating crime novels from Swedish. Not a ton happens in this novel, Sonja is trying to learn to drive, most of the action such as it is focuses on her driving lessons. She’s trying to repair her relationship with her sister, she’s thinking a lot about where she came from. My number one complaint was that the book just sort of seemed to stop.

It is a prettily written novel, and I enjoyed the slightly odd discussion of the movie Contact – like, really the part where Jodie Foster is on the beach with the alien is quoted fairly extensively. Overall, don’t quite recommend this one, although always a little hard to say that with a translation since you don’t know quite what’s been lost.

Currently reading: American Spy, How to Raise a Boy