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Eyes at the Window

Eyes at the Window

5.0 2
by Evie Miller

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          This historical novel, literary and engaging, examines a close-knit community of Amish pioneers over several decades (right up to the eve of the American Civil War). Employing eight different voices, Miller unpeels the cohesions and tensions as settlers move west while others stay behind. Beneath the surface


          This historical novel, literary and engaging, examines a close-knit community of Amish pioneers over several decades (right up to the eve of the American Civil War). Employing eight different voices, Miller unpeels the cohesions and tensions as settlers move west while others stay behind. Beneath the surface but never quite forgotten is the unsolved murder of an Amish baby (based on a true incident). This is a story of judgment and misplaced responsibility, of attempts at love and forgiveness, and finally of grace despite unspeakable loss. It is told lyrically from within this often-idealized but sometimes scarred human community. An unforgettable story.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Miller's ambitious, moving debut tells the fascinating saga of Amish settlers in Pennsylvania and Ohio in the 19th century, where, in the face of hardship and privation, simply to stay alive was to triumph. Seen through the eyes of eight main characters who alternate chapters, the story centers on how the mysterious death of an infant in 1810 reverberates for the next 50 years. Death hovers over every page: diphtheria, miscarriages, stillbirths, mad dogs, lightning strikes and overwork are part of each character's everyday life ("Father! Father! Look to Mother. She is not right. She feels cold and makes no answer"). In the midst of this unrelenting struggle, love blossoms: men and women marry, have many children and live spiritual lives of order and simplicity. As the characters grow older, the strict rules of their religion begin to erode in the face of modernization, and new problems arise. In less able hands, this epic might drag, but Miller crafts a narrative that seizes the reader's imagination from the beginning and never lets go. Yost, the father of the baby, worries about the future ("I will keep my boys close when they are grown; I will use my land as bait"); Polly, who may have seen the baby's attacker, muses about love ("I wish Jonas had been given more looks... his green eyes have too much of the cat in them"); and Rueben, wrongfully accused of the baby's murder and shunned by his relatives and neighbors for 50 years, longs for his late wife ("My Anna.... I know she watches my valley with me"). There is little variation in voice from character to character, and Miller's biblical cadences may seem strained to some, but this is a rewarding read, a rich portrait of a time and a people. (Oct.) Forecast: The Amish are perpetually of interest, and Miller-who hails from Kalona, Iowa, home to the largest Amish Mennonite settlement west of the Mississippi River-provides an unusually intimate glimpse into their world, making this a prime candidate for handselling. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Spanning 1810-61, Miller's first novel offers a stunning and sensitive portrayal of the Amish men and women who first settled in Pennsylvania, with some families later migrating west to Ohio. Narrated by eight different characters whose lives intersect, the plot centers on the murder of an infant, Marie Hershberger, and its far-reaching effects. Marie's father, Yost, convinces most of the community that his brother, Reuben, is behind his daughter's cruel death. As a result, Reuben is shunned until a startling deathbed confession 50 years later reveals the murderer's true identity. Although long, this compulsively readable book draws us into the characters' joys and struggles in a time when diphtheria threatened to wipe out whole families and hard work and strict rules dominated. Miller's first-rate writing and canny insight into Amish ways and thought render this a better read than Beverly Lewis's Amish series, "The Heritage of Lancaster County" and "Abram's Daughters." Highly recommended for all collections. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

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Skyhorse Publishing
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Read an Excerpt

Tobias is not my father, but I could not ask for a better replacement. He and Esther remained steadfast, even back in Somerset. When we visited them, or when they came to our place, they never altered our patterns of eating together. According to the teaching of the ban, I should sit by myself at the end of the table, but they made clear, that was not to be. Esther’s eyes blinked rapidly at the notion of separation. I had never seen her show such vexation. Moving to this new wilderness allows us to put these church troubles aside. Of course, there are people here in Ohio who know the history I carry in my knapsack. But for now, I am content to think on a new start. We are here. This is not the Garden of Eden, but it is not a fiery hell either.

There has been an awkwardness between Anna and me with this shunning. Since I was excommunicated and she not—no one sought to find fault with her—she is expected, as a member in good standing, to shun me as well. She stays as warm as ever, with one exception; she will not allow any consummation. We lie side by side and she permits my touch, but when I want on top, she half-sobs and says we dare not. “It will not look right. Everyone will know, if we have another baby,” she says.

At first I grabbed her tight and forced my way, but there is little pleasure when she is crying. “No, Reuben. I am so sorry. Why does this have to be? Yes, Reuben, I want what we cannot have. No, Reuben.” And then, “No, no, no.” There is no pleasure, only a vicious release. I can grab a tree for that purpose. She says we will love, but stop short. That is when my hatred for Yost consumes me. I would like to see my brother abstain from his wife. Told to abstain. But as Anna says—I have heard it too often—my hatred of Yost changes only me. It affects him not one whit. I do not know if Anna and Esther have talked about our stopping short, but for now I will let things remain as they are. I do not mean to minimize Anna’s strong arms about me; she keeps me steady in the head. But with more time in this new country—by the time we have our own cabin—surely she will change her mind and allow me satisfaction. Surely.

Since arriving, I have fulfilled one vow. While walking through the wilderness, I thought often of the children of Israel and of their sojourns. Pilgrims and strangers in a foreign land. I thought of the man Ebenezer Zane, of his work and his given name. And so it was that one day, not long after our arrival and before daylight was fully gone, I called Anna to my side and bade her watch as I carried a heavy white stone—it looked to be made of limestone—and placed it atop a large mound overlooking the Trail Creek. I said quietly, “Here I raise my Ebenezer. ‘Hitherto hath the Lord helped us.’“

Anna said not a word but touched her apron to her eyes. I waited for her to correct me, but for once, I had the words right.

© Good Books, Intercourse, PA 17534

Meet the Author

Evie Yoder Miller grew up on a farm in rural Kalona, Iowa. Through the years she has had short stoires, essays, and poems publishe by a variety of small presses. Here Ph.D. is from Ohio University. Currently she teaches writing and fiction writing at the University of Wisconsin-Whitwater.

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Eyes at the Window 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
On the Pennsylvania frontier in 1810, Amish pioneers Yost and Eliza Hershberger lose their 7-month-old daughter to murder. Who would slip into their cabin long after midnight, while the young couple and Eliza's visiting sister Polly are out tending the sugar maples, and smother an infant to death? While leaving the two older girls unharmed? The guessing begins when Polly remembers twice seeing eyes at the cabin's window. First before the three adults left the cabin, and again after their discovery of the murdered baby. Although the frightened young woman can tell her brother-in-law almost nothing that might put a name to the person behind those eyes, Yost takes what little she does say and quickly builds it into an assumption: the murderer must be his brother Reuben. A jury of 12 Amish men soon declares Reuben Hershberger guilty of causing little Marie Hershberger's death, and the local bishop pronounces sentence. Reuben must be shunned. Over the next 50 years, Reuben Hershberger steadfastly insists on his innocence. Anna, his beloved wife, stands by him as best she can but even she must obey the church, which for her means sharing his bed without allowing conjugal relations. That deprives them both of the large family that their culture requires - the two children they already have must be their last. They relocate to the Ohio frontier, but Reuben's supposed guilt follows them. Other Amish from their Pennsylvania county also move to Ohio, and that makes any real change in their social isolation impossible. Evie Yoder Miller strutures her novel as a first-person narrative in the separate voices of eight different characters. Chapter by chapter, the narrator changes and so does the reader's perspective. The 50-year mystery that supplies the book's plot isn't its real point, although that's handled well enough. Where EYES AT THE WINDOW really shines is in its fascinatingly detailed portrait of Amish life in the 19th Century and in its sobering, entirely believable portrayal of what the characters' unjust assumptions do, not only to falsely accused Reuben but also to his accusers and the entire community that administers his punishment. A rich and thought-provoking read!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I picked this book up after both my cousins read it twice. It didn't disappoint me at all. Being that I had lived in an Old Order Amish sect in Pennnsylvania, I was curious to see how it resembled life as I knew it. Putting the death of an infant and its mystery content aside, it did resemble life as I knew it. The dedication and hard work that is so real in this way of life shined through. As for the passiveness that we women have in that kind of religion, that was portrayed too.