Sunday, March 25, 2012

Growing Up Amish by Ira Wagler ****

Growing Up Amishby Ira Wagler presents an insider's view into the life of the Amish communities across North America. While the Amish (and Mennonite) communities might be well known in Lancaster County, PA, evidently there are communities all across the mid-western and eastern United States, and into Canada - any place where a family can support itself by farming.

While to an outsider, the Amish, dressed in simple homemade clothes riding horse-drawn buggies, might all look the same, an insider notices differences in the women's head covering, characteristic to each different locality. And the buggies: some liberal bishops allow rubber tires, while the more traditional bishops require just iron wheels. Some courting couples are allowed to meet weekly, while into other disticts, once every four weeks is deemed often enough.

This highlights to biggest surprise. Each district (around a dozen families) is independent and different. In a larger Amish community, real estate values vary by district, with the prices higher to live in a more liberal district where you might be able to have indoor plumbing and a telephone in a little outhouse.

The author was chronically ambivalent about Amish life and left, only to return, many times. Sometimes he left for hours, but he also left for months at a time. He joined the church and was excommunicated and returned to be forgiven only to leave again. In this way the narrative, beyond the interesting view into a conservative, religious, agrarian lifestyle, is a tradgedy, as the author never seems to make peace with his own life. While he tried to blame this angst on the church, the reader is left to wonder if the fault doesn't lie with the man and not God.

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