Thursday, June 03, 2010

Book Review: I Am Hutterite

Having enjoyed the memoir, Mennonite In A Little Black Dress, I was intrigued when suggested I would also like I Am Hutterite by Mary-Ann Kirkby, so I ordered it for my Kindle.

The subtitle of the book, "the fascinating true story of a young woman's journey to reclaim her heritage", defines the difference between Rhoda Janzen's book and this one. Janzen had no need to reclaim her Mennonite roots because her entire upbringing was in that community while Kirkby's parents left the Hutterites when she was 10 years old.

The Hutterites have many similarities with the Mennonites and the Amish, but unlike those two groups believe in communal living.

Kirkby's first 10 years were spent on a Hutterite farm in Manitoba, Canada, where the community shared responsibilities for cooking, cleaning, child rearing, and producing crops and animals for sale to support the group. There was no private property to speak of--the land, tools, farm vehicles and buildings were community property. Each family had its own home but all meals were prepared in the community kitchen and only one meal a day was "taken out" to be eaten privately in the home.

Community power rested mostly in the minister. In Kirkby's case, this minister was also her uncle and he and her father never got along. Finally this conflict pushed her parents into leaving the community with nothing to show for their many years of work there, and starting over with seven children to support.

Life in the Hutterite community is described in great detail by the author. She is very positive about her memories of life there. The contrast between that cloistered and predictable existence and the shock of transitioning to the "English" world of public school where she and her siblings were still marked as outsiders was quite traumatic. The entire family suffered from grief and depression over this rupture with their past for many years as they struggled to find their place in a very different culture.

I think the author unduly romanticizes this lifestyle. Her younger brother died of a ruptured appendix because her uncle refused her father permission to drive a community vehicle to the hospital in order to sign permission for surgery. Finally he rebelled and took it anyway but the delay cost his son's life. This was the incident that caused her parents to leave.

The memoir is a fascinating look into a little-known and often misunderstood sect. It is well-written and reads like a novel. There are a lot of characters in it, because Hutterites have very large families, so I was glad there was a family tree at the end. There is also a helpful glossary of Hutterish (a medieval dialect that they still speak) words in the back of the book.


Sue said...

Thanks for another great review QG. I'll have to add this one to my (becoming lengthy) summer reading list.

If you enjoyed this book, you may also enjoy A Complicated Kindess by Miriam Toews. She writes about her life as a teen in a Mennonite community in Manitoba.

Quotidian Grace said...

Thank you, Sue! I will check out the Toews book.

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