"Julia Kasdorfs absorbing,
well-illustrated biography deftly demystifies the
remarkable Professor J. W. Yoder without
diluting his mystique. Her dual sharing of his 'Big
Valley' roots and artistic aspiration provide for special
insight into her subjects multiple personae: an
unusual Amish boy; an aspiring 'liberal' college teacher;
a unique musical presence in early 20th century
Pennsylvania; the aging author of a widely read fictional
account of Amish life; and eventually a self-appointed,
frustrated apostle of 'progress' to his relatives. This
is must reading for anyone interested in the paradoxes of
Amish mentality in the American context, seen here
through the prism of a lyrical writers wrestling
with her own calling."
"With great sensitivity, Julia Kasdorf describes the pilgrims progress of an Amishman who both yearns to shake the limiting and parochial dust from his Big Valley shoes to seek liberty in the expansive American society, yet is persistently drawn to defend and to reform his people. Best known for his autobiographical story, Rosanna of the Amish (1949), which has been sold by the tens of thousands and is still in print, Joseph W. Yoder wrote it as a defense of the Amish, who, he believed, were being slandered in popular accounts. Paradoxically, in later works, especially in Amish Traditions (1950), Yoder tried to pressure Amish leaders to modernize and liberalize their customs and practices. The play on words in the title reveals the tension: Yoder wanted to fix, that is, to preserve the tradition, but even more to fix, that is, to repair it.
"Based on exhaustive archival research and extensive interviews, the author recounts the fascinating narrative of a multi-talented man who was at once very much an exemplar of the muscular Christianity of his time, and one far in advance of his era in his views of alternative health and ecology. Though dead for nearly a half-century, Yoder lives on in the memories of older residents of the Big Valley of Central Pennsylvania as Singer Joe, who taught them in their youth the rudiments of fine congregational singing.
"In this intriguing and most
readable account of one unusual personality on the
margins, Kasdorf throws a searching light onto the tenets
and tensions of the Amish-Mennonite heritage and thus
broadens the stage. An epilogue considers the dilemmas of
artists who need to maintain distance from their subjects
at the same time respecting their deeply felt beliefs.
The book can be appreciated on many levels: as a fine
biography, for its insight into Amish social control, for
trends in higher education in the early decades of the
twentieth century, and for its clear and compelling
"Fixing Tradition will forever alter our view of Rosanna of the Amish. With about 400,000 copies now in print, Rosanna of the Amish is the book that curious inquirers have picked up in order to answer the question (as Herald Press promises): "What are the Amish really like?" Readers may not notice that the book is a grossly idealized view of only one pocket of Amish culture, and by now over 60 years out of date.
"To this old, tired classic, Julia Kasdorf brings an inquiring mind intent on discovering the biographical, historical and cultural dynamics that are implicit in the book. Her critical yet sympathetic gaze transforms Rosanna of the Amish from a seemingly naïve idealization of exotic people into a complex depiction of an enigmatic author and his representation of himself and his birth community. The book becomes a complex work of literature, well worth reading againand well worth remaining a best-seller.
"Fittingly, this study of the
first successful Mennonite writer, Joseph W. Yoder, is
written by a prize-winning poet whose ancestral and
cultural roots lie in the same Big Valley near
Belleville, Mifflin County, Pennsylvania."
"Joseph W. Yoder (1872-1956) was
an American progressive, an enigmatic figure among his
Amish kin of Mifflin County, Pennsylvania. A promoter of
higher education, a professional musician, a
writer-publisher, and belatedly, the husband of an
elegant Presbyterian, Yoder broke with
convention yet negotiated a place for himself within
Amish Mennonite culture, most strikingly in his writing
of Rosanna of the Amish. Julia Kasdorf's biography
of Yoder skillfully blends history, genealogy, and
metaphor to illuminate the tensions and triumphs of an
Amish American and his artistry."
"In a lively and engaging style,
Kasdorf explores the fascinating story of an Amishman
turned artist. Kasdorfs good grasp of Amish culture
and understanding of artistic expression, enables her to
capture the creative tension and ironies between a writer
and his Amish community. This welcome narrative adds to
our understanding of the role, ironies and difficulties
of the artist-writer in the Amish community"
Fixing Tradition orders:
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