I Am Hutterite

27 March 2009

I Am Hutterite
by Mary-Ann Kirkby
Published by Polka Dot Press
Review by Judith Silverthorne
$21.95 ISBN 978-0-9783405-1-3

Fascinating, sincere and moving are only a few of the words to describe I Am Hutterite. Throughout this insightful memoir, Mary-Ann Kirkby transports the reader into the complex lifestyle of her heritage, which is one that is normally hidden to the outside world. She does it in a way that is intriguing, perceptive and sometimes humorous.

She starts by chronicling the family background of her grandparents and parents and their lives on Hutterite colonies in Canada. She weaves in information about the early history of this unique Eastern European culture and their five hundred year old traditions. Candidly, she continues her story, sharing the experiences of her daily life in the Hutterite colonies where she grew up.

Her clear, authentic story makes one almost feel part of her life and to feel like they know all of the characters personally. Detailed descriptions add a richness that can only have been known by someone living the communal life.

What makes this story even more vivid is her use of the traditional language, which she intersperses in the text. Common words and terminology are used and explained in an unobtrusive way that adds more depth to the story. Her insights also provide an understanding of the Hutterite belief systems and values. Outsiders can understand how her family struggled to conform to the colony life and what led to them leaving it behind.

The descriptions of the challenges they faced starting their new life are just as real and honest. Ten year old Mary-Ann and her six siblings must deny their heritage in order to fit in the ‘outside’ farming community where they live. As she and the rest of her family strive for acceptance and understanding, Mary-Ann has to reinvent herself and become more worldly, more ‘English.’ Mary-Ann Kirkby’s narrative of these times are painful and poignant, but always real. By the time the story ends, one has discovered incredible information and understanding of a strong culture. One has come to empathize with Mary-Ann, which makes it a story that one is not soon to forget.


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