OUT OF THIS WORLD: A Woman's Life Among the Amish by Mary Swander

OUT OF THIS WORLD: A Woman's Life Among the Amish

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

A sensitive but self-important memoir of an outsider's life in one of Iowa's Amish communities. Poet Swander makes her second foray into nonfiction (coauthor, Parsnips in the Snow, not reviewed, etc.) with this account of the hardships and rewards of living off the land when severe allergies to virtually all nonorganic food forced her into a one-room schoolhouse among an enduringly enigmatic group of simple folk. Depicting her life from childhood on, she offers many examples of her longstanding difficulties with food: falling asleep at the kitchen table when her mother demanded she sit there until she'd cleaned her plate, inexplicable rashes and sinus headaches when she tried to grow out of her picky eating habits as an adult, a diagnosis in her 20s of an intolerance to milk and eggs, and then, when her allergies worsened in her 30s, mistreatment by an allergist that almost killed her and left her unable to consume anything except strictly organic food she had previously ""eaten only infrequently or never at all."" Swander entertains with her quest to find tolerable foods (frogs legs, bear, road kill, etc.) but soon reveals that her allergies extend even farther, to most things synthetic, like toothpaste and man-made fibers. Readers would certainly rally behind Swander's valiant effort to reconstruct her life with ""environmental illness"" if only she didn't lapse into judgment and self-pity: She blames being single on her disease because men expected her to cook ""normal meals"" for them, she rages against the inconvenience of having to ask friends not to wear perfume into her home, she lectures on global warming. Some relief from this tirade is offered by her straightforward and detailed observation of the Amish, but these welcome interludes are few and far between. (Another report on environmental illness is Myrna and Heather Millar's The Toxic Labyrinth, p. 616.) Pass over the world-peace pedantry for the rare but lucid insights on one of this county's misunderstood cultures.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1995
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Viking