Tuesday, June 1, 2010

I Am Hutterite (review)

What's a Hutterite? Don't worry, I had no idea either. Judging the book by it's cover (I know, how awful of me), I figured it was a community of people like the Amish or Mennonite.

I was wrong and I was right. Of course the Hutterites are a community of people with the same religious, moral, and all other values. They dress the same. Their community is focused around their faiths (an anabaptist faith like Amish and Mennonite). And they are only found in certain parts of the world (US and Canada - although they did originate in Europe so maybe there are some sects there?).

However, the Hutterites are even more communal than the Amish & Mennonite. They literally have one big kitchen and dining room for everyone (separate for children & adults). They have a big kindergarten (more like our daycare) and school (although children attend both "English" and Hutterite school).

I just wanted to give you a bit (very tiny bit) of background before I told you about this book. "I Am Hutterite" is the brainchild of author Mary-Ann Kirkby. Her son asked her if she was Hutterite while they were visiting her brother's grave in a Hutterite community. This question took her on a quest to come to terms with the life she left behind at age 10.

Kirkby shares an extensive genealogy of both her maternal and paternal families. The maternal side traces back to the original Hutterites in Austria. Her paternal side chose this community after fleeing from Europe before WWII. The families did not stay in a single community for the extent of time written about. Some chose to go to a new community, some were voted to a new community.

The author also writes about when the political tension in her immediate family's community became so high (mostly due to a stubborn uncle who was the community leader) that her parents chose to leave the Hutterite communities altogether. They took their seven children to find a new (free) life.

Of course, hardship incurred (trying to feed so many mouths was not an easy task). The children tried to assimilate themselves into popular culture (in the '60s) while their parents clung hard to many things Hutterite (dress, morals).

I was intrigued by the cover of this book, realizing it had to be about some sort of certain community. I have read Beverly Lewis novels about Amish and Mennonites, although I know very little about any actual communities as such (although there are some Amish families near here). I loved Kirkby's writing; you are drawn in to her story as if it were a story you've read a million times. It's a comfortable feel to the book like that. You feel like you know her family and friends.

This is the type of book that makes you wonder what life would be like in a commune. Reading through her child eyes, the closeness of community and family sounds wonderful. The work doesn't sound as back-breaking as I'm sure it was. You can feel her loss when her family departs from everything she's ever known.

My only complaint about this book is that it sort of stops suddenly. The epilogue is vague (unlike the rest of the book) so you're wanting for more specifics about what happened next. How did Mary-Ann end up where she is; what was the rest of her life like? I felt left in the dark, like a great movie with a horrible ending. Otherwise, a really good read that takes you to a place you otherwise may not have known existed.

BUY IT: You can find "I Am Hutterite" on Amazon.com for as little as $14. 


Stacey said...

Great review. There are a ton of Hutterite Colonies where I live, and we often buy chicken from them :)

Anonymous said...

Hi, I liked your review...though I don't think I enjoyed it as much as you did! I was born and raised in a Hutterite colony, and actually still live in one. It seems like all reviewers thought the book ended to suddenly. I have contacted the author of I Am Hutterite and we have been talking about doing an interview on my blog. But I'm not sure when and how that'll happen as we disagree on quite a few issues concerning the book and the Hutterites in general. We'll see, I guess? I have my personal review of this book posted on my blog. Check it out if you can find the time...


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