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Mennonite in a Little Black Dress: A Memoir of Going Home

(Mennonite #1)

3.18  ·  Rating details ·  30,645 ratings  ·  4,486 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.
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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.…moreYes, 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.(less)
Chana I made borscht while reading it, but unrelated to the book. I had a surplus of beets, carrots, cabbage, onions and potatoes. So borscht it was. It tur…moreI made borscht while reading it, but unrelated to the book. I had a surplus of beets, carrots, cabbage, onions and potatoes. So borscht it was. It turned out delicious. I also put in crushed tomatoes, vinegar, honey and spiced with plenty of dill. Served hot.(less)
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Average rating 3.18  · 
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Petra X living life blissfully,not through books!
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
Aug 07, 2011 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
Jeanette (Ms. Feisty)
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
Florence (Lefty) MacIntosh
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, witty & smar
Feb 06, 2011 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
Nenia ✨ I yeet my books back and forth ✨ Campbell
Jan 01, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Nenia ✨ I yeet my books back and forth ✨ by: Carmen
Shelves: nonfiction, mem-wars

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I'm actually shocked by how many people seemed to dislike this memoir. It has a rather grim 3.17 average rating as of my writing this review, and a lot of the negatives are rather scathing. I have a soft spot for books with low ratings and thought the premise was intriguing, so I threw caution to the wind and picked up the book anyway. I enjoy memoirs written by women, especially if their experiences differ vastly from my own. As a non-r
Clif Hostetler
Oct 20, 2009 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 06, 2010 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
May 06, 2010 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
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 14, 2010 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
Debbie "DJ"
Jul 11, 2014 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
Dec 18, 2009 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
Feb 04, 2011 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
May 09, 2012 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
“You know perfectly well that a tractor can be hard work and fun too. Like marriage.” Janzen comes from the kind of family where her mother uses a tractor as a metaphor, recommends marriage to a first cousin, and serves “embarrassing” foods like borscht and persimmon cookies. This is a fun and extremely quick read about how Janzen gave the Mennonite tradition she’d forsaken a second look after her life fell apart in her early forties: her husband left her for Bob, a man he met on a gay dating si ...more
Sherard H
Sep 28, 2010 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
Aug 04, 2010 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 h ...more
Nov 08, 2009 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 wr ...more
Feb 23, 2012 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.

Mar 03, 2020 rated it really liked it
I think me not being into this story was more about me and what's on my mind in life right now than it was about the book itself so I feel a little guilty not giving 5 stars. Someone else might love this story so please don't be deterred by this review but my impression was that I didn't take much from it. It had some funny parts and some good stories about her Mom but I just didn't find it to be moving. That being said, I'm in a rut! Hopefully the next book I pick up will be the right one for m ...more
Lara Lillibridge
Jul 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: audible, memoir
I started reading this on Kindle, but switched to Audible so I didn't have to put it down!Smartly written and often funny memoir about life after divorce as well as life in a minority religion. My only criticism is that a small primer on Mennonites (which is provided at the end) would have been helpful at the beginning.
May 09, 2016 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's w
May 02, 2011 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
Jan 30, 2011 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Apr 03, 2012 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
Linda Wright
Jul 14, 2010 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
Sep 28, 2010 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
Nov 18, 2013 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Anyone
This book was good. Very entertaining. The author has a good sense of humor. Her husband of about 15 years leaves her for a man on named Bob. She also has various medical problems at this time. She ends up going home to live with her Mennonite parents in a Mennonite community for six months. I learned a lot about Mennonites, I laughed. She is smart and funny. But somehow I think she is too passive and needs more self-confidence. But I liked the book.
Agnes Houston
Mar 17, 2013 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.
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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,


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