When a catastrophic solar storm brings about the collapse of modern civilization, an Amish community in Pennsylvania is caught up in the devastating aftermath. Once-bright skies are now dark. Planes have plummeted to the ground. The systems of modern life have crumbled. With their stocked larders and stores of supplies, the Amish are unaffected at first. But as the English (the Amish name for all non-Amish people) become more and more desperate, they begin to invade Amish farms, taking whatever they want and unleashing unthinkable violence on the peaceable community.
Seen through the diary of an Amish farmer named Jacob as he tries to protect his family and his way of life, When the English Fall examines the idea of peace in the face of deadly chaos: Should members of a nonviolent society defy their beliefs and take up arms to defend themselves? And if they don’t, can they survive?
David Williams’s debut novel is a thoroughly engrossing look into the closed world of the Amish, as well as a thought-provoking examination of “civilization” and what remains if the center cannot hold.
What I thought….
I read this quickly and easily, Jacob’s simple, clear narration through his diary entries lull you into the world he and his family inhabit within the Amish community.
If you are looking for a post-apocalypse story with action and adventure, this is not it. This is a consideration of human behaviour – the Amish and ‘English’ viewed in both their similarities and differences – when you strip away the superfluous, superficial distractions of ‘English’ modern lives.
Pg 27, when Jacob talks about his Rumspringa (going walkabout in the world of the English as a teenager): “I remember how people would walk around not even seeing each other, eyes down into their rectangles of light. No one was where they were.”
The irony that I typed this quote in to a rectangle of light, to remember this image from the book that I liked was not lost on me… But, it stuck with me as a perfect example of what you see repeatedly in the book: the drags on the time and focus of the English on inconsequential things compared to Jacob and his family, where time together, contentment in quiet activity and working hard to sustain their way of life are fulfilling in a wholly different, but very real way. Had they not lived so close to the English, their experience of the solar storm that changes everything around them, would actually have changed very little for them in reality. They are thankful for the natural bounty they get when weather is better than expected and work hard to manage and moderate when the natural world delivers more difficult situations.
These are the stories I like the best I think, the ‘iceberg’ ones where most of the activity takes place beneath the surface of the skin. Examining how quickly modern life can disintegrate, how ill prepared many are for anything other than the comfortable, on-demand lives they have is intriguing and very real in this book. You don’t need heroes and villains on a grand scale for an apocalyptic tale: the quick slide of ‘normal’ people into crime and looting when they become desperate, set against those who selflessly step forward to help strangers in need shows how this happens realistically.