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.
The 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.