Mennonite In A Little Black Dress (A Memoir of Going Home): Book Review

Sep 18, 2010 | Books & Tales, Every Other Book, Karen Lewis

by Karen Lewis

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen is a book which comes across as if your best friend is telling the story over coffee. The author tells the story with ease and humor but does not leave much to the imagination.

Rhoda Janzen grew up in a Mennonite family in Central California. She has a Ph.D. From the University of California, Los Angeles where she was the Poet Laureate. She now teaches English and creative writing in Holland, Michigan.

Rhoda had been married for 15 years and recently turned 40 when her life took an unexpected turn for the worst. Not only did her husband leave her for another man he met on a gay website, but she was also in a serious car accident leaving her badly injured. Rhoda needed to take a break from all that had happened within a short period of time to reflect on life and find some healing, so she traveled across the country to stay with her Mennonite parents. Her minister father and gentle mother were overjoyed to have her back.

I had a very mixed impression of the book. Part of me enjoyed reading it and the other part was not sure. Some use of language would make the more reserved individual blush as the author talks very openly about her perspective of life in the Mennonite world. The book is considered controversial among many Mennonites, as some believe it doesn’t always give a fair picture of the culture. However, the reader needs to keep in mind that the memoir reflects one individual’s perspective and experience of growing up as a Mennonite and is not intended to be a complete picture of the Mennonite culture.

For all the serious life struggles she has gone through, the author’s sense of humor makes it sound as if nothing bothered her in life. She can describe and sum up great insights in a phrase. This book gives you knowledge that will help you understand her cultural background, and flashbacks of earlier scenes that explain why her view of life is the way it is today. Overall, I would give this book 2 and a half stars out of five.

Karen Lewis is a contributor to our Ministry Musings section, currently serving as a missionary in México with her husband and fellow contributor, Rev. Christopher Lewis. Learn more of their ministry at her blog, Beyond The Horizon.

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