Saloma Miller Furlong
Author and Speaker

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Amish Fiction

Peter wrote:


Hello Saloma,
I saw your presentation on Saturday at the library in williston. I came in part because in a week and a half I will be leading a discussion about ‘Blood of the Prodigal’ by P. L. Gaus. The discussion is sponsored by the Vermont Humanities Council. I know you mentioned some of the writers who have romantisized the Amish and I wonder what you think of Mr. Gaus.



Peter, thank you so much for coming to my talk. It was great to see some familiar faces in the audience.


I don’t think I can help you much with the book you mention… I have not read it, and I have no desire to. I have quite given up on reading Amish fiction, unless it is by someone who was Amish. I don’t care how careful someone is when writing about the Amish, there is just no way for someone in mainstream America to “get it right,” because there are so many nuances about the Amish culture/life/religion that one only gets from having lived it. I don’t often make blanket statements like this, but I’ve given enough Amish fiction books a try to be able to say that.


Just to make sure, I looked Blood of the Prodigal up on Amazon… on the very first page, the author has the young boy thinking thoughts that would be so far from any young Amish person’s thoughts, it is unbelievable. I am referring to the line, “… he had already discovered that the dawn could give him an identity separate from the others.” There are so many things wrong with this sentence, I don’t know where to start. I don’t think ANY ten-year-old thinks about “an identity separate from the others,” never mind an AMISH boy. And in my mind, this is not a well-written sentence, either. (How can the dawn give someone a separate identity?)


The few pages I read, the author is inconsistent, going back and forth between grossdaddy and grandfather. I found this distracting. And then on page 4, the character says, “Kommen Sie.” Again, completely WRONG. The Amish do not speak high German, and not only is this high German, he is using the formal “Sie” instead of “du” form (of “you”). The Amish NEVER use the formal form — until I learned German, I didn’t even know there were two forms of “you” in the German language.


Sorry to be so negative, but reading the first five pages of this book does not make me want to read on… in fact, it makes me realize those of us who have lived the Amish life and have stories to tell need to redouble our efforts to dispel the myths that abound in mainstream America about the Amish. What makes our job harder is when books like this are published — it seems new myths are created each day through “bonnet fiction.”


Beth Graybill wrote an article about this genre in Canadian Mennonite. Here is an excerpt of her article:


And it is a rapidly growing sector. An April 27, 2009, a Time magazine article noted that “romance fiction, of which Amish-themed novels command a growing share, generates nearly $1.4 billion [US] in sales each year, and that number is rising.” According to a July 2009 ABC/Associated Press (AP) news story, although net sales for Christian retailers were down almost 11 percent in 2008, Amish fiction is “the undisputed industry leader.” 


For the full article, click here.


I recommend “A Separate God” for anyone who is interested in reading a realistic novel set in the Amish culture. Lucinda Streicker-Schmidt grew up Amish in Indiana. This novel is based on her own life. I honestly wouldn’t know which parts of her story are made up, because she had her Amish experience to draw upon, making the story authentic, at least in its “Amishness.” This means that the author does not perpetuate the myths that abound.
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