Book Review: I Am Hutterite by Mary Ann Kirkby
Mary Ann Kirkby recounts her unique childhood in her memoir. She was born into a Hutterite family. The Hutterites are a religious sect similar to the Amish only they believe that living communally is a mandate for Christians. Mary Ann recounts her childhood both in the religious sect (her particular group was located in western Canada), as well as the journey and culture shock she went through when her parents left the Hutterites when she was nine years old.
I actually read this memoir because of the situation in which I first ran into Hutterites and have been fascinated with them ever since. For a couple of years, my father and brother lived in Montana. I went to visit them and was shopping in Victoria’s Secret at the mall and rounded the corner to discover traditionally-garbed Hutterite women buying thongs. I had no idea what a Hutterite was, but instantly hunted down my brother elsewhere in the mall to find out who these people were. All that the “English” seemed to know about them was that they lived in a commune, dressed kind of like the Amish but different, traveled all together to town in a few big vans, and the Hutterite women were always buying thongs at Victoria’s Secret. Hutterites are rather quiet about their lifestyle though, so when I stumbled across this on a new releases list, I knew I needed to read it to find out more about the community.
This is a completely fascinating memoir that I devoured in one day. Mary Ann is able to see both the faults and the beauty of various experiences in her childhood with the clear eye of an adult. Yet simultaneously she harbors no ill-well toward either the Hutterites or her parents or any of those who made her transition from a Hutterite girl to an “English” woman more difficult. Kirkby writes with a sympathetic ear to all those she encountered in her life, which is a refreshing change in the memoir genre.
Additionally Kirkby’s writing offers an immersion into the fascinating world of communal living with a religious belief system to hold it all in place. Kirkby recounts a childhood where no homes were kept locked, everyone was always welcome in everyone else’s home, and most meals of the day were eaten communally with your age-mates. In fact, one of the biggest changes for Kirkby when her family left the Hutterites was suddenly needing to interact with her siblings on a regular basis instead of her same-age female friends. She also had trouble understanding the English need for privacy in the home or the relative silence with which meals were eaten.
Another point of interest is that Kirkby’s father was from a Russian family that was persecuted in Europe and had to run to Canada to escape the Nazis. His father sought refuge and a sense of safety in the community of the Hutterites. Conversely, her father who grew up in this safety found himself craving more freedom than the strict rules and constructs of the commune would allow for. The book thus not only recounts a unique girlhood and insight into the Hutterite way of life, but also addresses the age-old question of freedom versus security.
Anyone interested in the Hutterite communities or unique childhoods will absolutely enjoy this memoir. It is well-written, intriguing, and contains not a trace of bitterness. I highly recommend it.
5 out of 5 stars