In her debut novel, Moore draws on her great-grandmother’s life story to explore the challenges of the Amish lifestyle and a journey West.
Aaron and Ruth Holtz are Amish farmers in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, with four children and another on the way. At home, they often speak German, and a hereditary fear of persecution still plagues them—after all, Ruth’s Anabaptist grandfather was tortured in the old country. In the fall of 1867, two Americans come to see Aaron, who’s reputed to sell the best horses around. (Ruth calls the strangers “English,” her term for anyone of Anglo-Saxon descent.) They’re heading to Idaho and convince Aaron that he and his family should join them. Contradicting the community elders, Aaron insists that his family’s departure isn’t “breaking” with the Fold but “expanding” it. As the weeks pass and the Holtzes join a larger Conestoga wagon train, it becomes harder for them to preserve their traditions. For instance, their new acquaintance, Hortence, snatches up Ruth’s newborn baby and baptizes him while she’s away. The wagons also travel on the Sabbath, and after a fire, Aaron must have his singed beard trimmed—two more religious affronts. Things go from bad to worse when thieves steal their animals and a fever rages through the camp. Job-like, Ruth questions God when faced with wrenching losses. Overall, Moore’s tale of hardship and survival takes up classic Western themes but adds in Amish heritage as an intriguing twist. Ruth’s close third-person perspective provides the soul of the novel; it’s full of warm, descriptive language, quaint terminology (such as “littles” for children), and fresh, folksy metaphors (“West. The word flapped in the kitchen, like the grackle she’d caught in their milk-house”). Flashbacks return incessantly to Ruth’s and Aaron’s pre-trip preparations, and these, along with frequent fragmentary and verb-free sentences, break up the flow of the present-day action. However, they also allow Moore to jump right into the wagon journey without tiresome preliminaries. By contrast, Ruth’s letters to her brother, Dan’l, are a highlight throughout.
A worthwhile literary contribution to the popular Amish-fiction subgenre.