The question of how you, as an individual and a member of a community, would survive in the event of some major disaster, natural or otherwise, is one that’s provided the energy for all kinds of books and movies, whether the disaster is the rise of zombies, a fire in a high rise building, an invasion by an outside party or whatever. So if I tell you that When the English Fall, by David Williams, is about what happens and how people survive in the aftermath of an apocalyptic event, you could be forgiven for rolling your eyes a little and saying, “What, again?”
But what if I tell you that the people who are trying to survive the apocalypse are Amish? Now THAT makes it a different kind of story.
Told in the form of a diary written by a man named Jacob, the book examines the issues of nonviolence and the preservation of people’s ways of life in the face of extreme stresses.
The apocalyptic event is a massive solar storm that disables all the electronics of modern life, but obviously the lack of electronic devices doesn’t really affect the Amish, who spurn such fripperies. They’re able to continue with their ordinary lives and remain oblivious to the problems suffered by the “English” (translation: anyone who’s not Amish), at least at first.
But the “English” are aware that their Amish neighbors have full storehouses of food, that they’re doing relatively well, and they themselves are in desperate need. They also know that the Amish are historically non-violent, opposed to guns and weapons, and peaceful by culture and upbringing, so it makes sense to some of the more desperate and unethical to raid the farms of the Amish community, more and more violently.
How can the Amish survive if they can’t or won’t fight back against the invaders? But what will become of them as a people if they turn against their deepest principles in order to survive?
The best post-apocalyptic novels do more than just scare us about our potential vulnerabilities; while they also scare us with the idea of what people are willing to do to survive, the best ones also raise deeper questions about our societies and our values. Pitting the Amish against the rest of us in a situation of great peril gives us insight into what our modern world has really done to us, and what our true values are.