I have a couple of reviews of Amish fiction coming up, with more due in early 2012. It has been a while since I read any, and as it is set in quite a different ‘world’ to most fiction, I thought I would start by giving a bit of an introduction to the genre for those who haven’t been exposed to Amish fiction before.
Amish fiction typically focuses on the Old Order Amish of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania and other communities around the United States. The Amish are often referred to as ‘Plain’ or ‘Pennsylvania Dutch’, a corruption of ‘Deutsch’, as they typically speak a variant of German in their homes, although they also speak English. The Amish refer to non-Amish as ‘English’ (regardless of national or racial heritage) or as ‘Fancy’. The Mennonites have similar beliefs, but are more progressive in that they wear more contemporary clothes and use ‘worldly’ devices.
The Amish religion and traditions grew out of the Anabaptist reformers who rejected to what they felt were corrupt practices in the Protestant and Catholic religions of the 1500's. The Amish stress the importance of “keeping the body pure and spotless and free from the contaminating influences of the worldly aspects of life”. Common Amish rules include separation from the world, hard work, a woman’s submission to her husband and mode of dress.
Although the initial reason for leaving the established church was the Amish belief that congregation members are just as capable of interpreting the Bible as the clergy, they do not have “personal evangelism, personal Bible studies, and personal conversions… Such behaviour would threaten to elevate the individual over the community. Those who do attempt to show of their Biblical knowledge by quoting the scriptures are referred to as ‘Scripture Proud’…. They feel it would be an egotistical expression of vanity to ever claim they are certain of their eternal salvation. Instead, they feel it is their duty to live obediently to God's will and, in due time, God will reward the faithful.”
The Amish have no central church government, and live by a behavioural code called the Ordnung. The Ordnung covers every aspect of day-to-day living, and includes prohibitions or limitations on the use of power-line electricity, telephones, and automobiles, as well as regulations on clothing. Rules might differ by district (for instance, one district might be allowed to use a telephone but another might not), and disobeying the rules can result in ‘shunning’ – removal from the community until the individual repents. However, the Amish freely forgive, most publicly following a schoolhouse shooting in 2006 that left five young girls dead, now the subject of the movie Amish Grace.
While the rules of the Ordnung often sound rigid and controlling (groups have apparently been known to separate over infractions as minor as the width of a hat brim), the focus is meant to be on building and guarding character, to guide people into more Christ-like behaviour. Gelassenheit, or submission to the will of God, is central to their beliefs, and is shown through obedience, humility and simplicity. Individuality, selfishness and pride are abhorrent. The Amish seek to live lives devoted to God, family and community, based on God’s laws, valuing freedom of heart, peace of mind and a clear conscience. While the rules may seem restricting to outsiders, there is much to admire in the Amish culture, and this attracts the modern ‘English’ reader.
Popular Christian authors of Amish fiction include:
Wanda E Brunstetter
Mindy Starns Clark
Suzanne Woods Fisher
Ann H Gabhart
Hillary Manton Lodge
Shelley Shepard Gray
Most Amish fiction is contemporary, with a focus on the juxtaposition between ‘Plain’ life and the modern world. Some authors write Amish fiction exclusively, with the plot and characters all or mostly Amish. Others may be set in Lancaster County, but with ‘English’ main characters and only bring in the Amish as minor characters or plot points. Some authors also write ‘regular’ Christian fiction (romance, romantic suspense, historical, contemporary).
(Information from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amish. Quotes from http://www.welcome-to-lancaster-county.com/amish-religion.html).