Saturday, May 15, 2010

Book Review: I Am Hutterite, by Mary-Ann Kirkby

In 1969, Ann-Marie Dornn's parents took eleven year old Ann-Marie and her six brothers and sisters and left their Hutterite Colony to live in the "English" world. The decision had been years in the making. Though this book purports to be the story of Ann-Marie's adjustment to life away from her Hutterite community, it is as much the story of her parents as her. She starts her tale with the family history of each of parents individually and covers their courtship and its controversial place in the community. She writes about the establishment of Fairholme colony and the community dynamics of Hutterite colonies. We're three and a half chapters in (out of eleven) before Ann-Marie is even born, and eight chapters in before her family actually leaves the colony. Only the last third of the book is about their adjustment to the outside world. Mostly, this is a book about what it means to be an integrated part of a Hutterite community.

Or is this in fact Ann-Marie's story? Hutterite faith is definitionally lived out in community. Gemeinshaft ist der einzege Weg, they say. Community life is the only way to heaven. This is a story about belonging and choice. About family and commitment. About the difference between the ideal of community life and what happens ordinary sinful people try to live it out. About keeping individual integrity when there doesn't seem to be a right way forward. Ann-Marie-the-child loved community life, was welcomed and enfolded by it, while her parents struggled with adult conflicts, of which she knew virtually nothing. To understand Ann-Marie's story, it is clear, one must understand the community of which she was a part. The proper Hutterite understands her identity first and foremost not as an individual, but as a member of the group. Ann-Marie was wholly a proper Hutterite child and her beloved family-colony was who she was. No wonder leaving was so wrenching.

This is a well written memoir and I would happily recommend it. The common themes that play out in our human experience of love, pain, family and forgiveness are richly drawn within the very concrete experience of a specific time, place and culture. It's a quick, easy read. Four stars out of five.

This book was provided to me free by Thomas Nelson in exchange for a book review as part of their BookSneeze program. I was under no obligation to provide a positive review.


Anonymous said...

Excellent review. Thank you! I'm about a quarter into this book and it's a bit boring so far. She is an excellent author though...I'm was born and raised, and still live, in a Hutterite colony so I'll keep reading it...check out my blog if you can find the time!

Sara said...

thanks for stopping by!