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When the English Fall

Review

When the English Fall

There’s been a lot of talk lately about so-called “preppers,” people who are stockpiling food, supplies, water, ammunition and who knows what else in preparation for some kind of global catastrophe, whether it be climate change-related, a world war or a zombie invasion. These survival-minded folks are also focused on learning the skills required to survive in a world without technology and modern conveniences.

If you think about it that way, the Amish might be considered the original “preppers,” not because they’re storing up goods and tools against some kind of inevitable calamity but rather because they have never stopped practicing the kinds of basic skills --- from farming to food preservation to sewing one’s own clothes --- that most modern-day Americans have long since forgotten. That’s part of the premise behind David Williams’ thought-provoking new novel, WHEN THE ENGLISH FALL.

"The bulk of the narrative...raises many important questions about modern life, community, and personal responsibility and compassion, making it a more than worthwhile addition to the rapidly growing genre of post-apocalyptic literature."

“The English” is the nickname that Amish (or “Old Order”) people have for the non-Amish, i.e., for you and me. Near the beginning of the novel, which is set in the near future, Jacob and his daughter Sadie --- who suffers from strange visions and seizures --- witness a terrifying phenomenon, as the sky glows and airplanes (and their doomed passengers) fall like rain from the sky. It turns out that there’s been a massive solar storm that, in an instant, wipes out virtually all modern technology, from cars and trucks to computer systems (including banks) and refrigerators. All of a sudden, all the basic systems on which the English depend have been disrupted --- or worse.

Jacob, who’s always been friendlier than some of his neighbors with the English who live in neighboring Pennsylvania towns, gathers up the bits and pieces he gleans from their conversations and records them in his journal. As the weeks pass, it becomes clear that the Amish are both far better equipped to survive this disaster than most English and also extremely unlikely to fight back amid increasingly violent battles for scarce resources. Jacob and his neighbors are a potential site for sanctuary, solace and supplies, but also in immense danger for that very reason.

Jacob’s story raises numerous ethical questions, perfect for contemplation or discussion. How can and should a nonviolent society like the Amish respond in a situation like this? At what point does their doctrine of selflessness need to be set aside in favor of self-preservation? What are Jacob’s family’s obligations to their English acquaintances vs. their Amish neighbors and even their own self-interest? These questions --- along with Jacob’s ongoing exploration of his steadfast faith and his concern about Sadie’s seemingly prophetic visions --- accompany much of the novel’s steadily rising tension.

In the end, readers are left to speculate about the future prospects of the Amish community in general and of Jacob’s family in particular --- more fodder for vigorous discussion and debate! An opening “document,” purporting to be a report from the military personnel who found and analyzed Jacob’s abandoned journals, does not really add anything to this debate and is largely unnecessary. The bulk of the narrative, however, raises many important questions about modern life, community, and personal responsibility and compassion, making it a more than worthwhile addition to the rapidly growing genre of post-apocalyptic literature.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on July 21, 2017

When the English Fall
by David Williams

  • Publication Date: July 11, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction, Post-Apocalyptic Fiction
  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books
  • ISBN-10: 1616205229
  • ISBN-13: 9781616205225