In 1981, when author Thomas Nye was 19 years old, he moved into the Kalona community and found his life forever changed.
“The first friends I made were Amish teens,” Nye said in a recent interview. Around that same time, his stepmother began teaching in a one-room Amish school, and Nye soon found himself milking cows on a Mennonite dairy farm with his Amish neighbors.
“My interest in horses and Amish life has kept me connected and learning about my neighbors ever since. My wife, who grew up Mennonite, has learned to accept that our vacations will often take us to Amish and Old Order Mennonite communities.”
Nye has written a number of novels and novellas that center around the rich cultural exchange that can take place between the Amish and the English. Nye recently sat down to discuss his latest novel, misconceptions about the Amish and English, and whether or not horses can read minds.
Q: Your latest book, “Samson and Amish Delilah,” is about the public’s obsession with a love story between an Amish woman and an English young man — and how this love story comes true in real life. Where did this idea come from? Are you aware of any similar love stories in real life?
A: This story idea popped into my head after a book-signing event in an Indiana Amish community. A young Amish woman, who happened to enjoy reading Amish books, stopped by my booth. Her interesting and cute mannerisms made her a great candidate to be a heroine in one of my novels. An intriguing thought crossed my mind — what if she were to open a book someday and discover that she’s the leading lady? The basic tenets of Amish faith are thoroughly grounded in humbleness and non-conformity to the modern world. Knowing this, sets us up for a charming paradoxical character — a famous Amish girl.
The second part of your question: Yes, I have witnessed romances between Amish and English. It can be complicated for everyone involved. In most cases, the Amish person leaves their church family behind. It’s very rare that non-Amish have joined; though I have known of instances where outsiders have become Amish. Very few can adapt to such a difficult lifestyle. My sequel to “Samson and Amish Delilah” will focus on just how complicated an Amish/non-Amish romance can be. Hint. Hint.
ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT
Q: Part of the suspense in “Samson and Amish Delilah” is Delilah’s refusal to be a media darling. What can our media-obsessed society learn from someone like Delilah?
A: Great question. We would do well to heed Delilah’s wisdom on this topic. She, like most Amish people, understands that life’s greatest joys come from simple things that wealth, fame and fortune can’t promise. Pursuing happiness at the expense of relationships is likely to be counterproductive. One of the most significant challenges facing our modern culture is this oxymoron — we are becoming isolated by social media. Delilah might say, “Media, like many other good things, can be destructive in excess.”
Q: Horses play a big part in your books. How did you come to know so much about horses?
A: During grade school, I read every book I could find about horses. I also loved stories about the 1800s. When I moved to Kalona, I felt like I had fallen into my favorite book.
Watching local Amish farmers work the fields with huge horses persuaded me to trade in my riding horses for draft breeds. I bought my first team of workhorses from an Amish family in our community 28 years ago. That investment drew me closer to the Amish community through buying equipment, having a harness custom made and seeking advice when troubles arose. My Amish friends have always been willing to share their wealth of horse knowledge. They seem almost amused at my efforts to mimic their craft.
Q: Do you think horses have a sixth sense when it comes to reading humans?
A: Absolutely! My theory is that horses completely trust their intuition and thereby read us well. We humans may share that same gift of perception, but we tend to overthink and talk ourselves out of trusting our gut.
Q: Dave and Delilah have a great rapport. Their road trip is filled with humor and suspense. Part of this comes from them confronting misunderstandings about the other’s way of life. What misconceptions do the English commonly have about the Amish, and vice versa?
A: Many non-Amish people think that Amish life is void of humor. Nothing could be further from the truth. Amish people love to tease, joke around and laugh. However, they have a knack for changing gears and getting serious when the moment calls for it. Something a lot of us could stand to learn from them.
I would guess the biggest misconception they have about us is this: They think that we are more like them than we are. I believe that the bombardment most modern Americans receive from the media world is the very thing that makes our worldviews vastly different. It’s quite difficult for them to comprehend our individualism.
ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT
Without television, radio, internet, or other windows into modern society, they have limited insight into our world. They naturally assume we’re just like them. Whenever I’m visiting my Amish friends, they talk to me as if my life is very similar to theirs. I can’t help thinking — if they only knew.