Breaking New Ground: Liberating Lomie by Saloma Miller Furlong

By Sabrina Völz

In 2011, Salo­ma Miller Furlong’s Why I Left the Amish: A Mem­oir appeared dur­ing the mem­oir boom that gave agency to invis­i­ble, mar­gin­al­ized, or mis­rep­re­sent­ed groups. Why I Left the Amish was one of the first mem­oirs writ­ten by a for­mer Amish woman that pro­vid­ed unfet­tered per­spec­tives on the Amish. While many Amish groups today lead a sim­ple life much like many rur­al Amer­i­cans in agri­cul­tur­al com­mu­ni­ties did in the 19th to ear­ly 20th cen­turies, Amish cul­ture is any­thing but sim­ple as Furlong’s newest mem­oir shows.

In her inau­gur­al mem­oir, Fur­long chron­i­cles the life of a young Amish girl and teen who grows up in an insu­lar Amish com­mu­ni­ty in Ohio, strug­gling to fit in and make sense of the Amish faith and its rules. At the same time, Fur­long reveals a web of phys­i­cal, men­tal, and spir­i­tu­al abuse com­mit­ted most­ly by Amish males and the inabil­i­ty of the Amish cul­ture to deal with it. This is cer­tain­ly not the kind of sto­ry per­pet­u­at­ed by Amish romance nov­els so many peo­ple around the world like to read. Yet, the book has sold over 12,500 copies and reached many read­ers in pub­lic libraries and an unknown num­ber of prac­tic­ing Amish people.

Through her social­iza­tion in a patri­ar­chal soci­ety, it seems log­i­cal that Fur­long placed much of the blame for her pain and trau­ma in Why I Left the Amish on the male fig­ures who abused her and the Amish min­is­ter of her com­mu­ni­ty who enabled the abuse to con­tin­ue. Yet the unwill­ing­ness of her moth­er to admit her role and engage in a rec­on­cil­i­a­tion process with Fur­long led the mem­oirist to embrace new per­spec­tives. After tak­ing anoth­er hard look at her life, Fur­long ulti­mate­ly con­clud­ed that her moth­er was any­thing but a pow­er­less vic­tim lim­it­ed by her roles as a woman and moth­er in Amish culture.

In her third mem­oir, Lib­er­at­ing Lomie, Fur­long revis­its her child­hood mem­o­ries from the van­tage of a moth­er-daugh­ter rela­tion­ship. And that bond, like Amish cul­ture, is complicated.

Lib­er­at­ing Lomie is told in chrono­log­i­cal order, begin­ning with the ten­der sto­ries of a nur­tur­ing moth­er who cares for her baby. In a com­mu­nal soci­ety in which sub­mis­sion is deeply embed­ded in the cul­ture, indi­vid­u­al­i­ty is frowned upon. Amish cul­ture teach­es that a child’s will must be bro­ken, and Furlong’s moth­er embraces that oblig­a­tion to excess. The adver­si­ty begins when Lomie, Furlong’s Amish name, begins to both ques­tion her mother’s direc­tions and devel­op a will of her own. In between glimpses of hap­py child­hood mem­o­ries as the third of sev­en chil­dren, Fur­long recounts dai­ly drudgery of end­less house­work, per­son­al dis­ap­point­ment, a vari­ety of phys­i­cal pun­ish­ments and beat­ings, inci­dents of sex­u­al molesta­tion, and the unin­spired ful­fill­ing of reli­gious expec­ta­tions. When Mem, Furlong’s moth­er, refus­es help twice from a social work­er, Fur­long hits rock bot­tom. She decides to either take her own life or run away.

Sto­ries about moth­ers and daugh­ters have been cir­cu­lat­ing in soci­ety for as long as humans have exist­ed. Lib­er­at­ing Lomie, how­ev­er, breaks new ground. It takes a hard look at Amish wom­an­hood and describes the mul­ti­fac­eted harm that break­ing a child’s will can do. A num­ber of the chap­ters in Lib­er­at­ing Lomie will be famil­iar to read­ers of Why I Left the Amish, most of them reframed. Oth­ers, such as “Ponce de Day Leon,” which won the award for best non-fic­tion at the 2018 Tuc­son Fes­ti­val of Books, are new. Writ­ing against the grain takes courage, and Fur­long mas­ters that chal­lenge with brilliance.

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