Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Book Review: Mennonite In A Little Black Dress

You can't blame a girl for going home to Mom and Dad after suffering a botched hysterectomy; having her husband leave her for another man; and being seriously injured in an auto accident within a few weeks' time. Rhoda Janzen returned to her Mennonite roots (her father is a Mennonite pastor and seminary professor) used her skills as a poet and teacher of creative writing at Hope College to write a memoir about growing up and away from her roots in the Mennonite community.

When I was offered a review copy of Mennonite in A Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen, the publisher's marketing folks highlighted the rave review from Elizabeth Gilbert, author of one of my least favorite books.

So I almost declined, but then was intrigued with the Mennonite angle since some of my father's family were Swiss Mennonites and I don't know much about them. For the record, Janzen is a WAY more sympathetic author than Gilbert and there is very little similarity between their two books.

Janzen wants us all to know that Mennonites are Not the Amish. They are too liberal for the Amish who split off to go their more conservative way back in the day. But the Mennonites are definitely much more like the Amish than most of us are, and Janzen offers some very witty and wry observations that made me laugh out loud.

I particularly enjoyed the top 5 Shame-Based Foods for Mennonite lunches, which included Platz and Borscht. Her ancestors were from the Ukraine, but I bet if they had been Swiss like mine she would have had cheese and chocolate instead!

Although the book has a lot of laugh-out-loud moments, it also has thoughtful reflections on how her upbringing shaped her later life and that of her siblings. Interestingly, Janzen says that she once applied to a Mennonite seminary to study theology but changed her mind after hearing from the only female student there. She writes that she still believes in God but questions much of the conservative theology she grew up with. Becoming thoroughly secular in her marriage to an atheist, she never replaced that religious viewpoint with anything else. Nevertheless she portrays her Mennonite family, community, religion and culture with sympathy, affection and loyalty.

Mennonite in A Little Black Dress is written in a conversational style that is witty, insightful, thought-provoking and never whiney. I really enjoyed reading it and would like to read more from this author.


Princess of Everything (and then some) said...

That sounds really interesting. We have a lot of Mennonites in our area.

Anonymous said...

I will be of to amazon next to order this - I have a fascination with the Mennonite church (also the Quakers) - now that I can read for fun I look forward to exploring this one! Thanks for the review!

Elaine said...

The sample for this one has been on my Kindle for a few weeks now. I will have to move it up the list.

Norman, Oklahoma