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Mennonite in a Little Black Dress: A Memoir of Going Home Paperback – April 13, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
“This book is not just beautiful and intelligent, but also painfully -- even wincingly -- funny. It is rare that I literally laugh out loud while I'm reading, but Rhoda Janzen's voice -- singular, deadpan, sharp-witted and honest -- slayed me, with audible results. I have a list already of about fourteen friends who need to read this book. I will insist that they read it. Because simply put, this is the most delightful memoir I've read in ages.” ―Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love
“This is an intelligent, funny, wonderfully written memoir. Janzen has a gift for following her elegant prose with the perfect snarky aside. If it weren't for the weird Mennonite food, I would like very much to be her friend.” ―Cynthia Kaplan, author of Why I'm Like This and Leave the Building Quickly
Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.
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.Read more ›
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!
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I was only going to give this book three stars, and I also almost put this book down, but in the end, I'm glad I stuck with it. This is a memoir of Dr. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Nancy A
This is a chick memoir, and I'm not a chick. But I liked it anyway and even had some laugh-out-loud moments and others in which felt she perfectly nailed her descriptions (such as... Read morePublished 2 months ago by Avid Reader
I'm grateful that I got this from the library and didn't have to shell out any money for it. I picked it up based on the cute cover, the interesting premise, and the fact that... Read morePublished 3 months ago by Miss Darcy
Ms Janzen is an excellent story teller. If she stops writing books, she could be a stand up comic. Her approach to sharing her miserable life made me laugh out loud. Read morePublished 3 months ago by KAAREN NELSEN
My little sister called and told me I had to get this book. So I did, and she was so right. We have a Mennonite heritage, and I could swear that Janzen has been lurking in the... Read morePublished 4 months ago by Jenny