When the English Fall by David Williams
(Algonquin – July 11, 2017)
Contemplative and powerful, WHEN THE ENGLISH FALL is an unsettling story about the precarious nature of current American society set in the farmlands of Pennsylvania in seemingly current times. Never before have I learned so much about a culture while reading a postapocalypic novel – a novel that didn’t read at all like any dystopian story I have encountered before. In fact, I have a hard time even classifying this as dystopian, and caution readers of entering the novel with that expectation. I read this diary-entry style novel as a powerful and contemplative look at the Amish culture living amidst the English during a time of deep hardship – the cause of the hardship almost being irrelevant.
As the Amish come to realize just how entwined their lives truly are with the English, and realize that their peaceful way of life may not be enough to survive in a world of starvation and desperation, their beliefs must shift and make room for this new reality. Jacob’s diary entries are sparse and ruminative and provide readers with an intimate look into the workings of a deeply spiritual and human mind. The Amish are not painted as saints in this book, nor are they depicted as “others” – Jacob writes them as he knows them as he wrestles with conflicts both old and new, English and Amish.
Williams writes in an essay for The Algonquin Reader that he based the solar storm premise of this book on an article he read about a real historical event – The Carrington Event of 1859, which was the single largest solar storm in modern history. The information he provides in this essay, combined with the background he provides on the Amish world, combines to give readers a perfect set-up for WHEN THE ENGLISH FALL. I live in an area of Wisconsin with many Amish families, and found the premise of this book to be incredibly unsettling – so much so that I honestly plan to rethink the way my family plans for emergencies. This book has changed the way I think and live – a true victory in the world of literary fiction.
Thank you to Algonquin for providing me with a paperback galley of this book for review purposes – all opinions are my own.