Jenn's Reviews > Mennonite in a Little Black Dress: A Memoir of Going Home

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen
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's review
Jun 28, 2010

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bookshelves: non-fiction, read-2010
Read in June, 2010

This is sort of a memoir -- it's more like a collection of anecdotes. The book starts off with what seems to be a trajectory: Rhoda Janzen, in her early 40s, is suddenly in middle of a disastrous divorce (her husband leaves her for a man he met on and has just lived through two major medical problems, including a scarring car accident. She decides to spend her sabbatical back with her family, conservative Mennonites now living in California and Oregon, and one expects -- one is led to believe -- that this will be a story of how interacting with them led her to a more peaceful place or provided her support in her time of need.

Some times, it is that story. Sometimes, it's just funny anecdotes of a childhood lived under a particularly conservative branch of Mennonism. They're funny and -- for those, like me, who grew up in any branch of the Mennonite church, easy to relate to -- but they don't end up making much of a coherent story. At the end of the book, I have little confidence that Rhoda Janzen has taken in the strength of her family so much as she's used it to write a book that might make her financially more stable, even if emotionally, she still seems to be, possibly, a wreck.

I liked nearly all of this book except for the last chapter, which seemed to be a tacked-on "now explain Mennonites!" bit assigned by some less-than-understanding editor or agent. Most of the way through, Janzen manages to describe her relatives and old church friends with both humor and compassion, but in the final chapter, she just savages the whole church with an unexpectedly bitter tone.
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