This novel is apparently part of a series called Daughters of Amana. I wasn’t quite sure what this book was. It is very like an Amish fiction book, but yet, it’s not. The novel still holds many elements of the Amish culture, but how the culture is described in the book doesn’t seem familiar with other Amish fiction books I have read. Maybe this has something to do with the time frame. This book is actually placed in the 1800s, whereas most Amish fiction books are placed in the here and now or up to forty years previous to today’s date. I am sure the Amish culture and way of life has evolved over the years, so maybe this was the author’s way of exploring the previous manifestations of the culture.
The culture described in this book is placed in Iowa, in a town called Amana. The people are of German stock. They use the familiar German phrases readers become familiar with while reading Amish fiction, Ja means yes, for example. They live in a community together. There are a few things I haven’t heard before. This community practices a pooling of resources. The members of the community turn their money into the community and are given an allotment for each year. The village store doesn’t use cash, but uses a tally sheet that will be compared against that family’s amount for the year, basically like a bank balance book. They eat in a community kitchen, people don’t prepare their meals at home. The real kicker here is that this community believes that it is better to remain unmarried rather than to marry. I have never really heard any religious society proclaim that, and this is where I am puzzled. So I am going to put this book in my “Amish fiction” category because it is similar, but it’s not really there.
This group practices something pretty close to a concept called consecration. Consecration is when a group of people choose to live together. They produce items, baked goods, vegetables, animals, and of course money. Each family keeps what they need to survive and gives everything extra to the community. That extra is distributed in the community to those who need. For example family A grows vegetables, but doesn’t have a cow, family B has cows and produces butter. Each family gives the extra to the community and family A ends up with butter and family B ends up with vegetables. This concept is great in theory, but there has never been a group that has been able to make it last. In ways, it’s very similar to the communes that the “hippies” are known for starting. I use quotes because I think most of the time that term is derogatory and all “hippies” weren’t pot-smoking air heads. There were some really smart people associated with the group that had great ideas. So needless to say, this community featured in this book is not something that is real.
The modern-day Amish people do deal in money, if the family has extra they may give it away to help others, but they are not required to do so. The Amish culture also encourages marriage. I’m still not quite sure what this group is in this book. I will have to do some more research and see if the author actually based this on a real culture or she just made the whole thing up.
On to the story! There are actually two main characters in this book both female. One girl’s name is Johanna, she is twenty-one. The other girl’s name is Berta and she is seventeen. The book opens in the scene where Berta just moves into the village at Amana. She, at first, doesn’t know that her family is moving there for good. Berta has some problems following rules.
Johanna has a few problems of her own. It seems that her parents are pushing her to marry someone. The culture says it is better to remain unmarried, so Johanna is kind of confused. Johanna has two older brothers. One left the community to go and live in Chicago, while the other died when Johanna was very young.
Berta on the other hand is an only child and she thinks that her parents have moved the family to the village because of Berta’s unpredictable behavior. Eventually Berta finds out that there are more reasons involved than that.
Johanna is instructed to help Berta learn the ropes of the community. Berta is assigned to work in the community kitchen with Johanna. Berta finds this hard work and classes with the kitchen boss.
That is as much as I am going to tell. I wouldn’t want to ruin it for anybody. That is kind of all the book is anyways.
I liked this book ok, but it wasn’t outstanding. It had several well-known plot events thrown in and none of them were thoroughly discussed in the book. Johanna’s romance or lack thereof is never given that much “air-time” in the book. Each girl has several major things going on and it just seems like it’s too much. Granted that is the way life happens sometimes, but two characters with all their different problems are kind of hard to keep up with. The reader breaks the surface of what is going on, but never really gets to the center of what is going on. Each girl has family secrets to deal with. Each girl has romance to deal with. Each girl has a soul-searching to deal with. It’s a lot for one book. Usually in books only one character is going through these things at a time.
I did like Berta and Johanna, but even though I liked them I never got to the point where I really cheered them on. Main characters have to be someone you can cheer on through the story; Berta and Johanna weren’t those type of characters. It’s still a nice book. It’s a generic feel-good read. There isn’t really anything that makes it stand out other than the weirdness of the culture explained in the book.
What I liked: I am not sure if I liked learning about this culture yet because I’m not sure, yet, if it’s real or rather if it was real. Berta got into some funny situations. She acted before she thought and that made her an interesting character. She was a little unpredictable. As far as Johanna there wasn’t much to her really.
What I didn’t like: One of the things I really enjoy in “time-period specific” novels are the descriptions of the activities going on. This author didn’t get very descriptive. There are a few passages where the author talks about how certain foods are made that are somewhat descriptive, but everything else is kind of hazy. Each thing has a minimal description, but not a thorough description. I could never really get a picture of what this village looked like in my head. There were too many things left out; I couldn’t form an adequate image in my mind. I wanted to be able to see in my mind, “This is so-and-so’s house, this is where this house is in relation to the kitchen, this is where the garden is in relation to the house, this is where the store is in relation to the kitchen,” but I couldn’t do that. The kitchen was starting to sound like this awesome place of wonderful food and efficiency, but there was never enough detail to envision this massive bustling kitchen in my mind.
I really think the events and characters in the book were stretched in too many directions. Nothing could ever get deep enough. One of these girl’s stories alone could have made a great book providing there was deeper description.
It’s still not a bad book, it’s just not spectacular.