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Mennonite in a Little Black Dress: A Memoir of Going Home [Kindle Edition]

Rhoda Janzen
3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (390 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $14.00
Kindle Price: $9.94
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Sold by: Macmillan
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Book Description

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 left her with serious injuries. What was a gal to do? Rhoda packed her bags and went home. This wasn't just any home, though. This was a Mennonite home. While Rhoda had long ventured out on her own spiritual path, the conservative community welcomed her back with open arms and offbeat advice. (Rhoda's good-natured mother suggested she date her first cousin--he owned a tractor, see.) It is in this safe place that Rhoda can come to terms with her failed marriage; her desire, as a young woman, to leave her sheltered world behind; and the choices that both freed and entrapped her.

Written with wry humor and huge personality--and tackling faith, love, family, and aging--Mennonite in a Little Black Dress is an immensely moving memoir of healing, certain to touch anyone who has ever had to look homeward in order to move ahead.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. At first, the worst week of Janzen's life—she gets into a debilitating car wreck right after her husband leaves her for a guy he met on the Internet and saddles her with a mortgage she can't afford—seems to come out of nowhere, but the disaster's long buildup becomes clearer as she opens herself up. Her 15-year relationship with Nick had always been punctuated by manic outbursts and verbally abusive behavior, so recognizing her co-dependent role in their marriage becomes an important part of Janzen's recovery (even as she tweaks the 12 steps just a bit). The healing is further assisted by her decision to move back in with her Mennonite parents, prompting her to look at her childhood religion with fresh, twinkling eyes. (She provides an appendix for those unfamiliar with Mennonite culture, as well as a list of shame-based foods from hot potato salad to borscht.) Janzen is always ready to gently turn the humor back on herself, though, and women will immediately warm to the self-deprecating honesty with which she describes the efforts of friends and family to help her re-establish her emotional well-being. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


“Wonderfully intelligent and frank. . . . Mennonite in a Little Black Dress is snort-up-your-coffee funny, breezy yet profound, and poetic without trying. . . . [Janzen’s] tone reminds me of Garrison Keillor’s deadpan, affectionate, slightly hyperbolic stories about urbanities and Minnesota Lutherans. . . I loved this book, and Rhoda Janzen. She is a terrific, pithy, beautiful writer, a reliable, sympathetic narrator and a fantastically good sport.”—Kate Christensen, New York Times Book Review


“Hilarious and touching.”—People (four stars)


Mennonite in a Little Black Dress is a hilarious collection of musings on Janzen’s childhood, marriage, and eccentric family. . . . Janzen mines Mennonite culture for comic effect, but she does so with love.”—Entertainment Weekly

“Janzen looks at her childhood religion with fresh, twinkling eyes. . . . Janzen is always ready to gently turn the humor back on herself, though, and women will immediately warm to the self-deprecating honesty with which she describes the efforts of friends and family to help her re-establish her emotional well-being.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“[A] spirited, fascinating memoir. . . . Janzen’s story reminds us what a beautiful gift our past can be.”—Hannah Sampson, Miami Herald


“Hysterical. . . . In the tradition of David Sedaris, it’s [Janzen’s] family who is the source of the book’s biggest laughs, and its heart.”—Marisa Meltzer, The Daily Beast


“Rhoda’s life may not sound amusing at first: She’s a poet/professor whose husband just left her for Bob, whom he met on But wh...

Product Details

  • File Size: 1340 KB
  • Print Length: 256 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 080508925X
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.; Reprint edition (April 1, 2010)
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B002SS581S
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #73,070 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

3.3 out of 5 stars
3.3 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
244 of 264 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars WHEN LEMONS TURN INTO LEMONADE August 27, 2009
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
My expectations for this book? I assumed that this would be an account of returning to one's roots after going out into the real world. Beyond that rather banal description I assumed I'd get special insights into the Mennonite world, including possible rituals and practices with a horse drawn carriage or two thrown in and an account of farm life.
In reality, this is a personal memoir that provides info. about carriages and Mennonite culture with food and recipes thrown in for a bit of flavor. However, at the heart of the matter is this wonderful account of how a series of unfortunate incidents brought the author back home. What I find completely amazing is that when even dealing with really serious or sad issues, Rhoda Janzen does it with such incredible style and humor that I found myself chuckling.
Janzen's writing style is conversational. Her sentences are complex and descriptive, but they flow easily. Best of all, it passed my acid test. Normally if I can't get involved in a book within 20 minutes, that's it. I put it down and don't invest further time or effort.
This book on some level reads like fiction. It's like a really good box of chocolates. I couldn't put it down. I loved the eccentricities of her friends and family. I highly recommend this book.
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91 of 104 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Funny, Touching ... but Uneven September 1, 2009
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Fortysomething Rhoda Janzen hasn't spent extended time with her Mennonite family in 25 years. But when her husband leaves their 15-year-marriage and she's injured in a car accident, she trades the costly sabbatical she'd planned from her midwestern college in favor of a few months back home on the west coast.

Janzen (a very likeable narrator) weaves childhood memories with anecdotes from those months spent visiting her parents (both of whom I loved: Dad is "the Mennonite equivalent of the Pope"; Mom is a pragmatic nurse and eternal optimist); her family and friends; and the Mennonite culture. But deep into the book, the story that finally emerges is her recovery (of self and roots) from her mentally ill husband and their failed marriage.

As a memoir, it's uneven. Some passages, even some words, are laugh-out-loud funny and make me thankful to have read this book. Others seem self-indulgent -- more amusing to the author than a reader -- and continue too long and at the expense of more-relevant material. The writing is likened to poetry, but I can see that only in its lack of transitions, not in language or sense evocation. I often wondered "Where are we?" and "When is this happening?"

Probably, this book was prompted by the pressure to produce something tangible from a sabbatical -- and what's more relevant for a teacher of English and creative writing to produce than a book? As a concept and draft, it's terrific; as a published work, it's okay.
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65 of 76 people found the following review helpful
Despite small rebellions, Rhoda Janzen stayed close to the Mennonite world she was raised in. That is, until she went to graduate school. At that point, too many of her social, philosophical and spiritual ideas were challenged, causing her life to become more secular. But she never severed ties with her family or the Mennonite community, so when crisis struck in the form of a divorce followed by a debilitating car accident, she was welcomed home with open arms. Her memoir, MENNONITE IN A LITTLE BLACK DRESS, centers on that homecoming but also celebrates a religious community more vibrant and diverse than most people realize.

Janzen may have been primed for the secular world unwittingly by her parents, both of whom were college educated (something very unusual for Mennonites). She and her three siblings were sent to public school and were allowed some spiritual and intellectual freedoms by their thoughtful yet conservative parents. Though her parents may have been inwardly disappointed by her choices to become a poet/professor and to marry the emotionally uneven Nick, they wanted her to be happy and were kindhearted when her turbulent marriage fell apart. In her early 40s, Janzen found herself back in her parents' home, enveloped in a life of German folk songs, strudel, borscht, traditional handicrafts and pious religious beliefs.

With biting humor and unflinching honesty, Janzen chronicles her divorce (the verbally abusive Nick left her for Bob from [...]) and shares childhood adventures and misadventures growing up Mennonite. And although it's Janzen's memoir, the star of the book is quite often her mother, Mary. Mary is funny, warm, and much sassier and worldlier than readers would ever expect.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
I found this book thoroughly entertaining, and laughed out loud at several points. As other reviewers have already explained, the author, Rhoda Janzen, was raised Mennonite, but as an adult became a secular academic. This book is written when she returns home to her parents after a difficult divorce to heal. The author has a biting wit and insightful eye for detail and irony, and some might find her portrayal of her parents and their friends patronizing. But I didn't, because I sensed her deep love and affection for them. As much as she appears to have rejected her upbringing in the way that she lives, she clearly has maintained an emotional and historian's interest in her familial culture. As she recounts childhood memories, she mixes in her historian's perspective with her emotional reverie, and I think it works quite well.

My only issue was that overall the book doesn't really go anywhere. There's no arc, like there is in the best-told memoirs, partly because Ms. Janzen is only willing to share so much. She shares some details of her marriage and the divorce, but it feels a bit distant and limited, and it's not linear, so it's tough to get a sense of her healing as a process. So while I loved the individual anecdotes, both from her childhood and from her time with her parents while she stays with them, I didn't connect with her overall healing process in a way that would have lifted this book to another level for me.

But overall, a funny, intelligent read. And if you are wondering what the difference is between the Amish and the Mennonites, she even has an appendix to let you know!
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Two Stars
too trashy
Published 5 days ago by Neuroma Grandma
1.0 out of 5 stars One Star
Did not like
Published 10 days ago by David B. Schnebly
2.0 out of 5 stars Two Stars
I must not have enjoyed very much. I can't even remember what it was about.
Published 11 days ago by Martha Banna
5.0 out of 5 stars A really funny book, if you can get through family holiday's...
Slow start, but became ironically funny throughout. Her respect for the culture is juxtaposed to her tongue and cheek humour about her community. Read more
Published 13 days ago by Beverly Brown
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
wasn't what I was hoping for. Not enough information on this lifestyle
Published 17 days ago by judib51
4.0 out of 5 stars I did not enjoy this book as much as her second book
Rhoda Janzen is a gifted writer and expresses faith ideas clearly in surprising ways. I did not enjoy this book as much as her second book, though.
Published 29 days ago by ncy lvly
5.0 out of 5 stars I really liked this book
I really liked this book. It was very well written, with the appropriate amount of humor and there were lessons to be learned. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Jeanne Provencio
3.0 out of 5 stars Ungrateful Houseguest in a Mennonite Dwelling
This book didn't hold my interest throughout though there were amusing incidents and turns of phrase. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Sandi Kay Wheatley
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book
Funny, sad, and intelligent.
Published 2 months ago by DJK
4.0 out of 5 stars Boring little black dress
Interesting but I found it to be rather boring.
Published 3 months ago by Myrna
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More About the Author

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, a collection of poems, and her poems have also appeared in Poetry, The Yale Review, The Gettysburg Review, and The Southern Review. She teaches English and creative writing at Hope College in Holland, Michigan.

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