2017-07-12
Despite her efforts not to treat her Amish friend Sarah as an object of anthropological curiosity, Martha Moore Davis sometimes cannot help herself. "Sarah goes about living with assurance and peace," Davis writes, "always knowing how to comfort others in the midst of hardship." Words like "assurance" and "peace" should put us on guard, for they connote the kind of unmitigated admiration that white yuppies bring to exotic Others.

Davis means well. Doing doctoral research on Amish education in Iowa, she met Sarah Fisher, an Old Order Amish elementary school teacher. "Did she feel the unspoken bond between us that I did?" She discovered that Fisher kept a diary; Davis, too, had kept a diary! Fisher was kind enough to share her diary with Davis, and thus we have this book, which comprises excerpts from Fisher's diary, which is really a farmwife's feed calendar, interspersed with Amish recipes, sylvan photographs, and Davis's reflections.

The book is charming in places. We learn about Amish quilting rituals and agricultural cycles, and if one slogs through diary entries one is rewarded with a good sense of what the Amish quotidian existence must be like. But Davis's commentary tends toward the precious, and she never finds the fine line between appreciation and orientalization that better scholars of diaries, like Laurel Thatcher Ulrich and Nell Irvin Painter, locate so perfectly. She has no negative criticisms of Fisher whatsoever. Davis is neither journalist nor scholar, but unabashed cheerleader.



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