Author of forthcoming Herald Press book "Bonnet Strings" featured on PBS’s The Amish: Shunned February 4

by
Kelly Hughs
;
January 30, 2014
;
Mennonite Church Canada/MennoMedia
Saloma Miller Furlong
Book cover,  "Bonnet Strings: An Amish Woman’s Ties to Two Worlds."
Kitchener, Ont. and Harrisonburg, Va.

In her first volume of memoir Why I Left the Amish (Michigan State University Press, 2011), Saloma Miller Furlong told of growing up in a strict Amish community with a violent, mentally ill father and a sexually abusive brother, and fleeing to a new life in Vermont.

Her new book, Bonnet Strings: An Amish Woman’s Ties to Two Worlds (Herald Press, $15.99 paper, February 3, 2014), recounts how she returned for a few years but was able to finally break away through the love of the non-Amish man she would eventually marry.

Furlong, who first told her story in the PBS American Experience program The Amish, will again be featured by the documentary series in a new film, The Amish: Shunned, airing on February 4, 2014.

Bonnet Strings continues the story of a woman torn between the Amish community where she was born and raised, and the Vermont world where she experienced freedom for the first time. At age 20, Furlong began a new life as “Linda.” She worked as a waitress, landing her dream job at Pizza Hut, made plans to attend college, and began dating a toymaker.

As Furlong wrote in her first book, “there are two ways to leave the Amish—one is through life and the other through death. To leave through life, one has to deliberately walk away.” Walking away is not as easy as it sounds. Vanloads of Amish drove to Vermont, pressuring her to return to the fold in Ohio. The second time an Amish group—including the bishop—showed up, “I felt the weight of the deep and abiding traditions of my ancestors on my shoulders,” Furlong says.

Furlong returned to Ohio with them, where she again donned her Amish garb and taught in an Amish school. Thus began more than two years of trying to “make myself Amish again.” Born with a nature that did not fit into Amish culture, she was labeled stubborn and rebellious. “It was a mismatch from the start,” she says.

Her ties to the outside world remained, however, through the quiet perseverance of the toymaker from Vermont, David Furlong, who contributed a few chapters to the book.

Bonnet Strings is a love story, but also “a universal story of choosing between our need for community and belonging and our desire for freedom to walk the path that is most authentic to who we are,” says Furlong.

Herald Press Editorial Director Amy Gingerich said of the decision to publish Bonnet Strings, “We are interested in pursuing authentic stories of Anabaptist life and thought, such as two other memoirs published in the last two years—Laughter Is Sacred Space by Ted Swartz and Blush by Shirley Hershey Showalter.” Gingerich points out that in those memoirs, the authors grew up in the Mennonite church and chose to stay. “Furlong chose a different path and left her church,” Gingerich notes.

“Furlong’s reflections and coming to a semblance of peace with her religious background make this a compelling story,” explains Gingerich.

The book ends with a beginning: Saloma and David’s wedding on May 29, 1982. “The joy of having overcome the cultural barriers and impossibilities of our relationship was overwhelming,” Furlong says. “I was no longer torn between two worlds—this was my last step out of the Amish community and into my new one.”

The Furlongs have two adult sons. Furlong graduated from Smith College in May 2007 with a major in German studies and a minor in philosophy. While she was at Smith, she completed an internship with noted Amish expert Dr. Donald Kraybill at Elizabethtown College (Elizabethtown, Pa.). During her 30-year struggle of coming to terms with her Amish past, Furlong says she has gleaned a better understanding of herself and of her heritage.

The book launches February 3 and a speaking schedule of author appearances can be found on the author’s blog, http://aboutamish.blogspot.com/.

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