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A glimpse of modern Amish in The Englisch Daughter

The Englisch Daughter – Cindy Woodsmall & Erin Woodsmall

The Englisch Daughter is a sweet but colicky baby named Heidi. An innocent child who could rend asunder the Amish family Graber. How would a loving people deal with economic distress, physical and mental health issues, addictions, gender roles, faith… and the arrival of a child born out of wedlock, out of infidelity? This a story on the need for dedication to one’s convictions, and on the need for convictions of our own choosing.

Cindy and Erin Woodsmall introduce us to the world of the Amish. This is shown not only as an idyllic, religious, dedicated society, with specified roles for men, women, children, and God; but, also, a society whose members deal with what the reader would consider ‘Englisch’ (i.e. not Amish or Mennonite) issues. Pastoral, picture perfect lives come at a price just as much as our modern ones do, they tell as. And at the very heart of all issues, they seem to claim, beyond fear and pain, there lies love.

Who would enjoy this

The Englisch Daughter would be a good choice for those who like stories about love triumphant, strong female characters and wholesome romance. It works well for those who like ‘Hallmark movies’, yet also for those looking for a bit of real bite to the characters. Mss Woodsmall bring forth difficulties and demanding situations for the Grabers, and for Chris Fisher, the chivalrous rebel on the brink of shunning.

Who should give this a pass

This novel is soft paced, and seems mostly targeted at a female audience. Readers should bear this in mind when picking it up. In addition, it presents a very specific culture, attitude, even language, which is remarked upon repeatedly – if this is something readers find irksome (like constant paraphrasing of Pennsylvania Dutch into English), they should be aware this narrative might push their patience. Similarly, this is not a demanding story, so if high literature is the object, well, this is not it.

Conclusions and suggestions

I admit it, I like romance novels. I find them cheering and a great escape from daily drudgery. The Englisch Daughter met those expectations, providing a soothing, quick, easy read. On the other hand, I tend to simply read and discard romances. This novel, though, wouldn’t allow that. It is well built. It slides smoothly, gripping you without need for excessive scenes. It is human, and humane in its portrayals of foibles. It provides enough insight into the characters’ growth to fully integrate the drama. Finally, it provides the resolution which one expects, happy ending without fireworks.

My one bone to pick would be that the personal struggle is rather quicker than the build-up of antagonistic feelings, of pain, of anguished betrayal, would lead us to expect. Either the characters were more angelic than they seemed to that point, or the ending took too great a jump into happiness. Yes, it is tough to develop emotional shift without being repetitive, let alone without additional scenes of action to conflict. Still, Mss Woodsmall’s tale would be all the rounder for that additional effort.

This, in short, is a novel I warmly recommend. Other things I would recommend, to improve on it, would be:

- A small introduction to the particular Amish branch the action takes place in (it could also be at the end of the volume, alongside the glossary). Readers like myself, who only know of such communities from a few films and documentaries, can find the use of, for example, telephones and computers, quite out-of-place with our beliefs regarding Amish lifestyle.

- Less paraphrasing of the Pennsylvania Dutch dialogue. It could be just as easily translated in brackets, rather than trying to wedge it within the activities described. More often than not, it made for clunky paragraphs. Plus, there is the glossary at the end, for those who cannot guess at the meaning from context.

- As explained above, a greater struggle, even hinted at, before reconciliation would make the characters more relatable, thus rounding off nicely the work invested in making them believable up to that point.

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