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REVIEW: Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen

Dear Ms. Janzen,

Last year a friend of mine gave me “Eat, Pray, Love,” by Elizabeth Gilbert. I read it and liked parts of it, though Gilbert’s intense emotional navel gazing eventually got to me. However, I did enjoy her “feels like a friend sitting down to talk to you” style of writing. When your book was offered to DA for review, the concept grabbed me. When I saw what Gilbert had written as a front cover blurb on it, I had higher hopes for enjoying it. I’m glad to say those hopes were realized.

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda JanzenThe book is a fast and funny recollection of your current life, past marriage, your family and Mennonites. Wow, no one can say this is totally derivative.

Let me start off by saying I am gobsmacked by your willingness to lay it all out, to reveal parts of yourself and events in your life that aren’t always flattering and which are deeply personal. I doubt I could ever obtain this degree of bravery needed to allow total strangers into my life. I doubt most people could. Yes, it’s funny but not always laugh out loud funny. A lot of the humor is more a gentle, wry assessment of life and the people in yours.

I can honestly say that nothing that was ever in my school lunch box was as bad as the top 5 Shame-based Foods for Mennonite youth lunches you endured. And I got Twinkies and Hostess cakes each day. I guess my life is complete. [G] The story about how your mother would lengthen your pants after your growth spurts made me wince in sympathy for you.

Your husband sounds like a pain to deal with. Sorry but I know I’d have brained him early on. I don’t think I can tip my hat to you for living with him for 15 years as he sounds like poison to the soul in the long run. I do admire you for not miring yourself in the deep mud about what happened or settling yourself in for years long resentment of him. That’s poison one would bring on oneself.

Your family and family roots seem to be positive parts of your life – despite the above mentioned lunches and thrifty extensions of clothing life. I guess you take the Mennonite tendency to rebel a step farther than usual. It sounds like an idealistic life for some but I’d be with you in needing to kick over the traces and explore what life has to offer outside of this community, if only just to see what’s there.

I did learn quite a bit about the Mennonite faith. I knew it wasn’t as insular as the Amish but I didn’t realize just how un-plain it could be. And though I’d balk at using up moldy leftovers in the fridge, some of the food sounds delicious – true comfort food. After an Internet search, I’ve located some recipes for cabbage rolls that I intend to try. Though I’ll skip the butchering, thank you very much.

When I finished the book, I was left with a warm glow. You have the marvelous ability to look back, even at the painful and – at the time – embarrassing events in your life and find the positive about them. To locate the silver lining of each cloud and relate it in a funny, friendly fashion that engenders happy laughter and sympathetic head nodding. It’s a gift and I’m glad you shared it.

~Jayne

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Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

3 Comments

  1. LizC
    Apr 24, 2010 @ 14:54:37

    Oh I’m glad you’ve given this a positive review. I stumbled across it in the local independent bookstore yesterday and wanted to buy it but put it aside and intend to buy it when I can get to a Borders to use what’s left of a gift card.

    I read just the first few pages in the store and was already cracking up and that was before I realized it was a true story.

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  2. Jayne
    Apr 25, 2010 @ 04:52:31

    If you like the first few pages, I’m betting you’ll like the rest. That same humor is throughout the book. Another friend of mine read the book late last year and enjoyed it too.

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  3. Audrey Musselman
    Mar 04, 2011 @ 10:47:11

    I just finished reading Mennonite in a Little Black Dress.

    I am a Mennonite. I am older than you. Supposedly, I should therefore relate to your description of your Mennonite life. I don’t. Why? Because only a small segment of Mennonites with a particular ethnic background in small exclusive geographical areas live and think in the manner you describe.

    It is this perception–that all Mennonites are “like your Mennonites” that bothers me.
    Surely in your Appendix where you ostensibly describe Mennonites you could have alerted your readers to the fact that you were describing a tiny percentage of the Mennonite world. A pocket of Conservative Mennonites that do not reflect the worldwide community by any stretch of the imagination.

    I give you a nod in your ability to maintain an ascerbic tone and a continuing and creative comparative ability that makes the reading interesting and amusing.

    But tell me–what is the relationship of the title to the content of the memoir? The picture of your mother and her sisters mentioned black dresses. I could find no other references. The typical image of women wearing little black dresses is that of women who attend “high society” functions and those do not appear in your book. So…?

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