Saturday, 27 September 2014

Sarah’s Journey: The Story of a Hutterite Woman – Debbie P. Stahl and Melissa Wollman

About the Book:

In her life, Sarah Stahl Wollman fulfilled many roles: a child in a Ukrainian village; a teenage girl crossing the ocean to a new life in America: a hopeful young wife; mother of three; a single parent. Known as Besorge Ankela (caring Grandma) in her later years, she lived in a time of great change for her people, the Hutterites. “Sarah’s Journey” recounts the remarkable story of her life and reflects on her legacy.

This book is available at the Hutterian Brethren Book Centre and on Amazon.

My Review:

Sarah’s Journey is an intriguing historical narrative, a piece of Wollman-family history involving the mysterious disappearance of Franz Wollman. Because the mystery could never be solved, the reader is left with a permanent cliff hanger, a fact that might deter some readers. However, since it is a true story and part of our Hutterite history, I felt compelled to read it. The photos included in the book, along with the family tree and an original letter enhance the story significantly. The historical details describing life in the Ukraine before 1874 are interesting and provide important background. The authors did an admirable job of collecting and recording a substantial amount of factual information: How Sarah Stahl, as a child left the Ukraine with her family to make a new life in America. Like many others, known as Prairieleut, Sarah’s family chose to live on an individual homestead. This is where Sarah grew up, married Franz Wollman and was blessed with three children, before his disappearance. Sarah is presented as a strong, wise and courageous woman.

However, since this is Sarah’s story, I would have loved to hear her voice. While I did learn how difficult life was for her, it would make the story more real and poignant to hear it in her words. It would also add immediacy. There are a number of places in the story where this could potentially have been done. For example, the part where Sarah has the dream could have been written as dialogue, as if she were sharing it with someone close to her. Another option for dialogue: Perhaps there’s a family member who remembers things she verbalized. Hutterites of her generation typically had a favourite, oft-quoted proverb or bit of wisdom, such as “E Geduldiger is besser wie e Storker.” (A patient man is better than a strong one.)

I was also left to wonder if Sarah found comfort in a particular scripture passage, or drew strength and courage from singing some of our German hymns. Mentioning a favourite Bible verse or song stanza conveys a personal detail about a person. Statements about Sarah’s ‘Gelassenheit, courage, endurance and unwavering faith’, would be tremendously enhanced by specific supporting details, adding texture and demonstrating what kind of person Sarah was. The book doesn’t state whether there was someone who reached out to Sarah as she struggled to accept this tragedy and her overwhelming lot. It’s unlikely that there wasn’t anyone there for her. Those would have been rich details to add. 

The fact that this fascinating true story in now documented is important and commendable. It’s imperative to record these historical pieces so they can be shared with others. In addition to testifying to the strength and value of communal living, this is the book’s major strength: It is to be hoped that it will inspire other Hutterites to write their stories, featuring historical family members. Then they will continue to teach, not only their own descendants, but all of us.


  1. Many of the people who knew "Besorgie Ankela" personally are now passed on. So far I have only the rough copy of her book but I ordered it thru Indigo book store. And us younger generation only remembers what was passed down to us. As young people often do - we didn't pay enough attention to the stories until we got to the age where it actually really married. She passed away a month after my oldest brother was born. And as honour to Franz there are 6 generations of first born Franks in Leask, Saskatchewan. Tho only 2 still living. It took years of research to get it as well written as it is. And who knows if more people read it they might have more information and it might be revised.

  2. That's right, more details and dialogue can be added should a second printing be done.

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  4. Hi Linda ~ I have this book, having recently ordered it from Amazon. I'm wondering where I first saw it, maybe had you posted about it before? Well, no matter because I have it and look forward to reading it, especially now that I've read your review. It looks like a quick read, too, so it shouldn't take too long. Thanks for the review, I always like reading your reviews, even if I don't always comment. :) ~ Beth Russo

  5. Thanks, Beth. I think I may have mentioned it on Facebook. Would really appreciate hearing your thoughts on it, after you've read it.

  6. Hi Linda, I agree it would give it an interesting read if it was written from her viewpoint, but when they (Debbie and Melissa) started out doing all this research they never dreamed that it would be published in book form, when that possibility came up, it was said to leave it this way with only a little editing. Besergie ankela is my great great grandmother, and I must say when they went and did all this a dream came true. now if only we could know what happened to her husband, but maybe we are better off not knowing?....:-) thanks for your blog on this. will tweet it....


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