Tuesday, December 21, 2010

I am Hutterite

I'm posting tonight mostly because I want to, not because I've got anything earthshattering. I did finish one of the books from my last post, though: I Am Hutterite by Mary-Ann Kirkby.

Kirkby faced a dilemma in writing this book. She was raised in a Hutterite community until the age of 8, and wrote this book a couple of decades after her family left. She stayed in touch with her friends from the community, but the fact remains that she had at most four years of really solid memories to draw on, and had to get the rest from her family and Hutterite friends. And unfortunately, it kind of shows. With a couple of exceptions, the Hutterite portions read exactly as if the person writing them just asked around about community life. They're well-written and interesting, but they don't have that emotional depth and 'insider' feeling that the title and jacket of the book lead the reader to expect.

The central figure in the family's decision to leave is also ambiguous. In some chapters, he's a tyrant: the horrible man who gave them a hard time about seeking asthma care for one of their children and deliberately withheld crucial information about the health of a different child, leading to its death. In other chapters, though, he's an intelligent, respected leader, beloved by everyone, who has the author over for Christmas Eve and is good with children. But the conflict there is never really explored.

When I fail to connect with a book, I often blame myself, and this time is no exception. I read the short book over a period of about two weeks, a handful of pages here, a page there, a chapter before bed: who can connect with anything read in that manner? Yet: the book also didn't reach out and grab me, the way After the Falls by Catherine Gildiner and The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers did. With those books, all I wanted to do was read them, yet I never wanted to reach the end. This one didn't do that for me.

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