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Mennonite in a Little Black Dress: A Memoir of Going Home (Mennonite #1)

3.16  ·  Rating Details ·  27,194 Ratings  ·  4,099 Reviews
A hilarious and moving memoir—in the spirit of Anne Lamott and Nora Ephron—about a woman who returns home to her close-knit Mennonite family after a personal crisis

Not long after Rhoda Janzen turned forty, her world turned upside down. It was bad enough that her brilliant husband of fifteen years left her for Bob, a guy he met on, but that same week a car accident
Hardcover, 241 pages
Published October 13th 2009 by Henry Holt and Co. (first published 2009)
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Kim Riffle Yes, it's real. There is a sequel that is equally good. She's had quite a life and shares some wonderful things learned/experienced along the way.
Gabrielle Not during this heat wave, but then maybe I ought to try cold borscht?

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Petra X
Apr 06, 2016 Petra X rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
You can read this book in one of two ways: either as a straight memoir by an English professor who had several personal challenges including a bad car accident who went home to her Mennonite parents to recover and wrote this book. Very simplistic and fairly enjoyable, although as Mennonites are nowhere near as separated from modern society as the Amish, there are few interesting insights into a really different culture.

Or you can read this as a thinly-disguised hate book against her ex-husband
Sep 04, 2014 Julie rated it did not like it
I continued reading past the first chapter only by accident. I had set up the book on my nursing stand, and each time I finished nursing, I was too distracted with the baby to remember to change out the book. But if I'd had free hands, I'd have thrown it against the wall.

In this book, Rhoda Janzen commits the following crimes:

--she makes fun of her family members for being backwards hicks -- in mean ways

--she makes snarky comments about almost everyone and everything -- snarky comments which she
Florence (Lefty) MacIntosh
Jul 11, 2014 Florence (Lefty) MacIntosh rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Florence (Lefty) by: Petra X
All things considered what an upbeat & funny story. The way she chose to deal with her husband leaving her for a man, without excessive bitterness or vindictiveness showed a lot of class. She dealt with the Mennonite Community in the same way, providing clear & logical reasons for why she left the faith while refraining from taking cheap shots. When her life was crumbling around her they were there for her with steaming bowls of borscht. I fell in love with her mother:)
Good writer, witt
Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist"
I read the first 60 pages of this book one night when I couldn't sleep. It had me laughing hysterically many times in that 60 pages. The kind of laughter where you're glad no one else is around because you're honking and braying and sucking in air like some kind of asthmatic donkey.

Sad to say, she pretty much used up her good material in that first 60 pages. The rest of the book is well-written enough. (She is, after all, an English prof.) But it consists mostly of long, rambling shaggy-dog sto
Dec 13, 2013 Katie rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This is going to sound weird, but I up to page 184 and then just stopped (and there are only 241 pages in the book). I think I kept reading because I had no other book to read. Finally, I came to a realization: "I don't like this book and I have ZERO interest in what might occur in the final forty pages."

I disliked the author's voice. I'm not sure how to explain the voice, but the best description I can give is that it sounds like she's trying too hard to be breezy and funny and witty...and I fo
Clif Hostetler
Jan 09, 2014 Clif Hostetler rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir
This book is an example of turning lemons into lemonade as only a skilled writer can do. Have you ever noticed that some of the most interesting stories we tell others are those personal experiences where everything went wrong? Well, Rhoda Janzen has written about a time in her life when everything that could go wrong happened. Her skilled writing has turned her memories into an entertaining, often humorous, memoir. Contrary to Thomas Wolfe's novel, "You Can't Go Home Again," Rhoda went home to ...more
Oct 29, 2015 Helena rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: nobody, actually
Full disclosure: this book annoyed me enough that I stopped at chapter 6. Maybe it gets better, but I wasn't in the mood to waste my time finding out.

First, know that if you are looking for insight into the Mennonite way of life, this is not the book for you. Though the author was raised in a Mennonite community, and returns to it when her marriage ends, she is not a practicing Mennonite herself. She actually tends to mock her family in what may be intended to be a lighthearted way, but sometime
Oct 06, 2010 Norah rated it liked it
Dear writers of memoirs: your books still need to follow a plot arc. It doesn't matter that you are writing stuff that happened to you. You can't just start writing about an experience and then throw in anecdote A because you happen to remember it and then include random scenes just because they're funny without giving us the overall context and point of your book. I should know in the first chapter of your book what book is about.

This book does not live up to its potential. Janzen has great mat
Debbie "DJ"
Jul 16, 2014 Debbie "DJ" rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir, humor, religious
I had no idea what to expect of this book, but it is hilarious! I had been needing a break from some heavier reading, and this was just the ticket. I would love to hear the audio version as this author is a true comedian.

Her story tells of the ending of her fifteen year marriage to a guy named Bob, who her husband met on She takes refuse in in going home to her family who are Mennonites. Somewhere around half way through this memoir takes a turn, and while still being humorous, a lot of
Sep 05, 2012 Edith rated it liked it
Shelves: memoir
Yes, this book was “laugh out loud” funny in many places and Rhoda Janzen’s humorous tone made it a quick and easy read, but I was puzzled by why she chose the path she did and kept looking for more than this book contained.

Throughout the reading of this entire book, I kept wondering one question. Why?...WHY did Rhoda so totally throw off the religion of her youth in her 20’s? Why did she seem almost hell bent to cast off every vestige of Christianity and Mennonitism in particular? WHY did she m
Lisa Bergren
What I liked: A peek into a modern Mennonite's life, a woman who has left the community and examines how that foundation formed her. Some truly funny moments. The author is insightful--to a certain measure--and puts herself 100% out there in terms of vulnerability, which I admire.

What I didn't like: I felt the author was mean and crass and disrespectful to her loving, and amazingly tolerant, parents. I can handle sarcasm and love dry wit, but it has to be balanced (a la Anne Lamott). I empathize
Apr 03, 2011 Rachel rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, memoir
I don't often go for memoirs, but this one was of personal interest to me, and turned out to be really well done. Though some of the Russian Mennonite references were unfamiliar to me, with my Swiss/German (and primarily Midwestern) Mennonite heritage, a lot of it hit close to home. Such as this passage about the conflict between the author's Mennonite upbringing and her professional career and adult life:

"Consider how impossible it is, for example, to aspire to the role of virtuous woman when p
Dec 18, 2009 Nicole rated it did not like it
Rhoda Janzen moved back in with her Mennonite parents after she survived a horrendous car accident and her bipolar, abusive husband left her for "a guy named Bob he met on" (The author uses that phrase over and over) . Her parents and extended Mennonite community welcomed her back with open arms. So, she spent the time there writing a book that makes fun of Mennonites. This isn't a "you know you grew up Mennonite if..." book. That, I would have found interesting. No, this book puts down ...more
Dec 23, 2013 Mallory rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Mallory by: Karen Bollaert
This book had so much potential, but was mostly a let down. The funniest bits were the blurb on the back, the first scene, and an epilogue written for the P.S. edition. The rest of Rhoda Janzen's memoir are largely disjointed, meandering reminiscences, some of which are mildly amusing and few of which are cohesive.

This novel was not disjointed enough to be considered a series of short writings on a theme, like Me Talk Pretty One Day or A Wolf At The Table, yet it was too episodic and meandering
Dec 23, 2013 Elise rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This is one of those memoirs that came from the "Everyone has a story to tell" memoir fad. I love memoirs. I don't love memoirs that seem to be the author writing to see the words in print (sort of like people who talk to hear their own voices). Janzen has a talent for storytelling, but I didn't see much value in the story itself. Maybe I'm too far removed from the situation to appreciate the story.

The writing was fun and the book is an easy read. I hoped for something a little more. I understo
Oct 03, 2016 Lisa rated it it was ok
Shelves: biography-memoir
This book does not live up to its description on the back cover or its blurb on Goodreads--it is hardly a "moving memoir" and is certainly not in the same class as Ann Lamott's or even Nora Ephron's work. The author, after living in "the world" for many years. has no place to seek refuge after a series of tragedies in her life but her parents' Mennonite home--going back to her roots. Janzen's comparisons of the Mennonite way of life to more mainstream American culture are interesting. The book ...more
Sherard H
May 02, 2013 Sherard H rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you liked David Sedaris, or if you liked Elizabeth Gilbert, then you should add Rhoda Janzen to your reading list. Janzen, who holds a Ph.D. from the University of California, Los Angeles, is the kind of educated author who we should all aspire to, and here’s why:

Janzen’s niche isn’t that her husband left her for a dude he met on, or that her family is so Mennonite they used to send her to elementary school with a thermos full of Borscht (although both are equally traumatic enough to
May 10, 2016 Athena rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: humor & bio readers
Shelves: biography, humor
4 stars for me, with wacky relatives & odd religions in the background
3 stars in general

I laughed a lot while reading this memoir. It's not without its issues but overall I found it to be an entertaining read and I adore this woman's mother - who wouldn't!? Perhaps that's the grace of the book, seeing the author's obvious love for her family even though you know that something must have been so grating to Janzen that she so vigorously left the faith and structures of her youth behind. As she
May 02, 2013 Rosemary rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I was disappointed with this but to be fair, it was partly because I thought it was going to be something it wasn't. I expected to learn about the Mennonite religion and community in a serious way along with the jokes, but that didn't happen. Even in the appendix where there is a section on Mennonite history there was very little that I didn't already know, and I'm not exactly knowledgeable on the subject.

But enough of what this isn't. What it is, is an irreverent look at Rhoda Janzen's family a
May 02, 2013 Kathleen rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir, funny, adult
A very, very funny memoir, especially towards the beginning. Her life in free-fall after her husband of fifteen years leaves her for a man he met on, Ms. Janzen goes home to live with her Mennonite parents. At 43, Janzen had strayed from her conservative upbringing: she wears Manolo Blahniks, sports a PhD in literature from UCLA and keeps her last name when she marries. So when she gets post-divorce dating advice from her mother that involves dating her first cousin Waldemar, I laughed. ...more
Jan 30, 2011 Katie rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Linda C.
Jul 14, 2010 Linda C. rated it it was ok
In the beginning we learn of Rhoda's surgery and tragic car accident. Then we learn of her failed marriage to the bipolar and really wacko Nick, who dumps her for Bob from Supposedly she goes home to her Mennonite roots to convalesce. Only the problem with the whole thing is that I never had a clear sense of where Rhoda actually was during this time.

Were there some absolutely belly laugh funny moments. Yes!! Her stoic parents and stories about lunch pails and long skirts were delightfu
Agnes Houston
Feb 03, 2014 Agnes Houston rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was a HOOT! I want to hang out with Rhonda, maybe her mom will adopt me.
Claire M.
Nov 18, 2009 Claire M. rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Dec 28, 2009 Geeta rated it did not like it
Shelves: why-did-i-bother
I powered through this book so I could pass it on to my MIL, who comes from a Mennonite family. I only finished it because I paid full price for it at Borders. What's wrong with it? It's just a string of anecdotes that read like emails. The premise is this: Janzen's husband leaves her for a man; she has a car accident and breaks a bunch of bones. Fragile and emotionally wounded, she heads home to her Mennonite family to use her sabbatical to recover. This is the occasion for remembering the ...more
Sep 28, 2010 Wanda rated it did not like it
This book, by Rhoda Janzen, seems to inspire accolades or thumbs down. A quick look at Amazon will find little in between. Sadly, I am in the latter group. After a great beginning in which the author draws the reader in, it falls flat on its face. It was a struggle to finish, it was that boring.
Supposedly this is the story of a 40-ish woman who is a Mennonite (non practicing) whose husband leaves her for a guy whom he meets on She has had major surgery from which she recovers and during
Jan 24, 2011 Sara rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A perfectly fluffy hospital read. Janzen, after a series of disasters (a botched hysterectomy, a cheating husband, and a catastrophic car accident) moves in with her parents for financial and medical reasons, and reflects on the wild discrepancies between her life as a cosmopolitan poet/ academic and their lives as strictly observant Mennonites. Janzen has trouble hitting exactly the right tone -- at times she's making fun of her sister-in-law in rather vicious excess, at times she's sweetly ...more
May 02, 2013 Eileen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I wish there was a star rating that meant "I laughed out loud several times, had to look up a few words in the dictionary, and regularly swore I could hear the voice of one of my dearest friends narrating to me from this warm, welcoming, funny, painful, strange familiar story".

Or maybe, to paraphase the words of Steve Martin, something along the lines of "it reached down, grabbed my heart and squoze it."

Yeah. That would do.

Nov 08, 2009 Judy rated it really liked it
Warning to all readers--do not, repeat, do not read this book while sitting in front of a class of college students who are taking an exam. My history students kept looking up from their exams every time I burst out laughing, and the occasional snorts caused a few of them to put their fingers up to their lips and shush, yes, actually shush me. They had better watch that finger body language with me. This is a very funny book about some very unfunny subjects. Rhoda Janzen, who teaches creative ...more
Mar 28, 2011 Ciara rated it it was amazing
this book seems to be getting reviews across the spectrum. kind of weird, because i thought it was a great! it's the memoir of a woman who spent fifteen years in an abusive relationship with an unmedicated bipolar man, until he finally left her for a guy he secretly met on the same week, a drunk teenager loses control of his car & smashes into janzen's car on the highway, leaving her with a shit ton of traumatic injuries. she decides to go back to the small mennonite community where ...more
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Rhoda Janzen is the author of the #1 New York Times bestselling Mennonite in a Little Black Dress and the poetry collection Babel’s Stair. She teaches English and creative writing at Hope College in Holland, Michigan.

Rhoda Janzen holds a PhD from the University of California, Los Angeles, where she was the University of California Poet Laureate in 1994 and 1997. She is the author of Babel's Stair,

More about Rhoda Janzen...

Other Books in the Series

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