Book Review: "I Am Hutterite" Memoir

Whoever says they prefer fiction because it tells a better story than real life, has never read "I Am Hutterite" by Mary-Ann Kirkby. This memoir delves into her childhood, exploring her upbringing in a Canadian Hutterite community (which is similar to the Amish in that it's a religiously-based community with strict, old-fashioned dress codes) and then her eventual struggle to adapt to English life when her family left the community when she was only ten.

I was not familiar with the Hutterite communities before I read this book. Of course, growing up in Ohio and attending college in the Appalachian foothills, I knew the Amish and Mennonite communities whom we might see at the zoo or whose horse-and-buggies we might zip pass on the highway. (In fact, my fascination with these sects was one of the dreams that encouraged me to explore journalism as a career; I hoped that some feature story might lead me behind-the-scenes where I could live alongside the Amish for a week or two, and then write about my foray.)

What seems to set the Hutterites apart from other communities like the Amish (aside from the women's polka-dotted headkerchiefs) is that their community is based around the biblical image we see in Acts where all the believers live together and share all their belongings. Hutterites attempt to live this characteristic out by eating meals together, sharing communal chores, harvesting crops together and rationing the yields equally. Everyone's needs, from those of new mothers to the elderly, are looked after and taken care of by the entire community as they embrace this conviction.

Kirkby shares what it was like to be raised in this sort of tight-knitted community, where literally everything is shared, from household chores to celebrations to the unfortunate tragedies and hardships that characterize life no matter how idyllic it might at first seem. And in spite of good intentions, no human project is ever perfect, including that of the Hutterites. It was the difficulties of community life that arose that eventually coaxed her parents to leave the colony with their seven children.

With honesty and rich revelation, she shares how devastating this decision was for her as her family left the colony in 1969 with little to their name to start anew. While everything had been taken care of communally in life in the colony, life outside was a stark contrast. They now had to worry about affording groceries, paying bills, finding work, as well as adjusting to being outsiders and fighting the loneliness that came with their newfound freedcom. With frequent visits and letters to her best friends back to the colony, Kirkby shares how she was able to keep one foot in each world--find her way around the outside world but also cling to the Hutterite heritage she would always consider home.

The memoir is an intriguing look into this obscure lifestyle, the emphasis put on family, sacrifice, hospitality and forgiveness--true tenets of the Christian faith that unfortunately are rarely lived out so vibrantly. Approachable and transparently, she intimately shares her story. I took in every word, imagining the beauty of living on a farm with all my friends and families just moments away, wishing for a bit of that myself. Though I had hoped she would have spent more time exploring more of how she found her place in Canadian society, adapted to it and how she integrates her upbringing today, this story was so rich and compelling--better than any fiction--that I read it in a day. (I Am Hutterite by Mary-Ann Kirkby)

(As part of the BookSneeze blogger review program, I received a complimentary copy of this book to facilitate my review.)

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  1. 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!

  2. Oh, I'm so glad you enjoyed my review, especially coming from a Hutterite perspective! I suspect that I enjoyed her memoir more because I'm not familiar with what it's like to live that kind of life, so it was enthralling to me where it's already well-known to you :) I'll definitely stop by! Thanks so much for sharing!


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