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Showing 1-10 of 227 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 439 reviews
on November 12, 2015
Robert Frost famously said that “home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” Rhoda Janzen’s, The Mennonite in the Little Black Dress proves Frost’s wisdom not only to be true, but in this case at least, beneficially healing. My friend recommended The Mennonite in the Little Black Dress and I ran and bought it right away because: 1) I love the kind of book that, at its core, dishes about a particular religion — kind of feels like insider trading to me; and 2) I’m married to a Mennonite. He’s non-practicing, okay, let’s call him lapsed, but like the Catholics (me), you can run, but the tribe is never far behind as Janzen points out so hysterically in The Mennonite in the Little Black Dress.

At the start of the book, Janzen, a 40-ish academic with no kids, but a husband whose bipolar nature may at times make her feel as though she has them, manifests a dis-ease necessitating surgery. Afterwards, her husband oh so lovingly nurses her back to health, but before the bedpans are even dry, he announces that he’s leaving her for Bob on Soon after, she gets crushed, literally, in an accident, hit hard and head on by a teenage driver. Not her fault, but there are those who say emotions are like magnets, drawing similar stuff to you, so if you’re feeling downtrodden, chances are the universe will hammer that point home again and again in the nicest of ways. But I digress.

When Janzen realizes that she’s teetering on the brink of financial ruin and simultaneously barely able to make the length of the living room without scooting across on her butt, she does what most people whose lives have been upended by fate and circumstance do when those lives seem impossible to piece back together. She goes home. To her parents house, the house of her childhood. Here’s the hilarious part: she writes about the whole sloppy mess in The Mennonite in the Little Black Dress, weaving in some homegrown mother wisdom and a few family recipes. Borscht, anyone? How about Warmer Kartoffelsalat? Janzen’s breezy style and never-ending ability to laugh at herself and her roots made me laugh out loud more than a few times (which is somewhat embarrassing if you read, as I do, on the elliptical machine at the gym). No matter where you read, pick up a copy of The Mennonite in the Little Black Dress, a brilliant, satirical, sometimes whimsical book, hilarious proof that there’s no place like home.
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on April 21, 2013
Rhoda Janzen is very, very funny, and I liked a lot about this memoir of her "return" to her Mennonite roots, which she pursues after a painful divorce and perhaps equally painful injuries after an accident. Janzen had left the fold for a life of secularism (even marrying an athiest) and returns for emotional comfort to her parents' home and the community she left behind. However, she goes only skin deep in this exploration, offering renewed appreciation for the warmth and honest goodness of her parents and the Mennonite community. But as personal insights and "aha!" moments go, that's pretty shallow. I was also was turned off by her bizarre, distracting and gratuitous habit of her referring to what we might politely call the lesser bodily functions in many of the chapters. Janzen is still a terrific wordsmith, with a sharp and ironic sense of humor, but as a spiritual memoir, I don't think she dug very far.
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on March 9, 2016
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 background at our family gatherings because she is so spot on with the family dramas, the banter, and the food, oh the food. When I was reading the book yesterday, my son actually had to ask if there was something wrong with me- apparently looking over at Mom sitting on the couch, writhing as if in pain, with tears streaming down her face, is cause for concern. Honestly, I was just trying to keep it in, not wanting to explain to a teenage boy why I was laughing until I howled. Sorry kid, Mom doesn't want to talk it. It's a little inappropriate. Bottom line, Janzen's voice in the book comes through clearly, if a bit raw at times, in a fast, enjoyable, pithy read. She's a very relatable author, an everywoman who's foibles are identifiable for the rest of us. I'll definitely be buying her other books after I finish this one. Now excuse me- she's got me in the mood for whipping up a batch of zweibach.
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on January 19, 2016
Whether you are a Mennonite or not or, in fact, if you don't even really know what that means, there is something charming in this book for just about everybody. Janzen describes in great detail the daily rituals of a family so frugal that even stopping at a McDonald's is cause for shame, as well as loud public prayer. And many of us, especially in her age range, can relate to the family traditions that embarrassed us as children but have, over the years, become a treasured part of our personal histories. If we are roughly 50-70 years old now, our parents lived through vast technological change and not everyone changed gracefully. Because the author has an impressively sophisticated knowledge of today's literature and modern mores, she is able to integrate her childhood and adult experiences in a way that helps the rest of us do the same. And it is a tribute to her parents' liberal world view and abiding love and strong work ethic, which seems to have really sustained her. It is a laugh-out-loud kind of read at times and ultimately is an upbeat look at what we can appreciate if we are brave enough to face our past head on.
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on January 17, 2017
An amusing book of a woman's experiences as a Mennonite and her initial rebellion and escape to her acceptance of her past and her
family's value system. Her sarcasm is humorous and witty and clever ( albeit acerbic) and I found the first half of the book more interesting and enjoyable than the latter part. It can probably be attributed to the fact that it became increasingly serious as she became more introspective and self-aware. There are several giggle aloud passages but underlying all of her reasons to deny her past she truly has true respect for it and her Mennonite family and roots. There is an interesting and informative historical addition at the end of the book about the Mennonites.
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on May 16, 2015
Slow start, but became ironically funny throughout. Her respect for the culture is juxtaposed to her tongue and cheek humour about her community. Even though she did not want to live the traditional Mennonite lifestyle, she was welcomed back to it when she needed medical and emotional healing. She was reintroduced without judgement into the loving and humorous situations that arose from friends and relatives with much patience and good cheer. Good for her and good for the Mennonites. This was a good story about how living can be trying and difficult, but can be faced with humor that makes troubles seen surreal and less of a catastrophe, because there is always a remedy in the Mennonite culture. Things that embarrassed her in youth are the very things that give her a sense of self, of hone, of safety and security when she needed it. Her Mennonite family, Like chicken soup, is good for the soul, you get over your sickness and then leave to go back out into the real world.
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on September 4, 2014
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 life's true meaning tumbled forth. In realizing she is co-dependent, she makes her own 12 steps, which had me laughing out loud. She talks about understanding our humanness, and those around us, forgiveness, and looking at one's own side of the street. While others hold on to their pain or victimization, not Janzen. She is able to move forward with her life.

While the Mennonite faith was not discussed seriously throughout the book, the endnotes have a very informative account of their history and beliefs. A quick side attention to the characters names. At first they breezed right past me, then I realized how entertaining they were in there own right. This is a quick funny read that is bound to lift your spirits!
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on March 5, 2012
Ah, first impressions. Anyway, the description of Mennonite in a Little Black Dress: A Memoir of Going Home by Rhoda Janzen I found intriguing. Since I have some Mennonite acquaintances, I thought I might gain some insight from a person who grew up in that social order and left it to pursue a wider world view. Well, the book arrived and the blurb by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love (aka gluttony, believing in everything while believing in nothing, sleep around, but I digress) was the first tip off that things probably were not as they seemed. This autobiographical attempt to look back has less to do with going home and a lot to do with whining. Granted, I admire the author's pick yourself up, dust yourself off approach to life after her manic spouse leaves her for a guy, a botched up surgery and a bad car accident.

First off, there are Mennonites and there are Mennonites. Her family is a product of the more liberal wing of that faith, belief system. I am acquainted with both extremes in the Mennonite Church. So other than a somewhat restricted childhood the author attended public school and functioned easily in and out of the Mennonite social circle. So, what you get is repetition about her husband and accidents, but mostly about her ex-husband over and over again. She might wax nostalgic about the Mennonite approach to life, but she, in my opinion has very little respect for it and like most academics has a smirky high-mindedness about Mennonites. She avails herself of the strong family bonds Mennonites have exhibited to me, but throughout the book there is always that little I'm the smartest guy in the room condescension in the author's description of Mennonites, their history, and their life style. Add to this the stupid (I say this because it is obvious Ms. Janzen has never read any Catholic theological writings on sex and the body-so she essentially stereotypes Catholics and what the Catholic church teaches) things she says about Catholics and how Catholics think about their bodies and sex. Finally, like most feminist writers from the 1980s on she talks and describes genitalia and bodily functions over and over again. As if to say, see I can say vulgar things just like the big boys. In this case it proves nothing but her lack of taste.

Overall, this book is a disappointment. If you are a student of religion, culture, or social movements you will not glean much from Mennonite in a Little Black Dress: A Memoir of Going Home. I only gave it two stars because Ms. Janzen does a good job of showing how love prevails and still does prevail in her family. The humor in the writing seems forced and sophmoric. No new insights here. I would expect more from some one with the author's academic and writing background.
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on July 19, 2015
There's no doubt that Rhoda writes well. But I felt a strong undercurrent of anger in this memoir. Something I wasn't expecting. And she shares some tacky stories that don't seem to have a place in the book, other than that they have shock value. Instead of engaging me, they were off putting. She frames her parent's marriage as successful, but I don't see the connection between them. Her dad is disengaged, and her mom is socially inappropriate, though sweet. I got the impression that her Mennonite upbringing developed in her a solid sense of denial and passive aggressive behavior. I felt for her circumstances, but didn't walk away feeling like she was a heroine. Which was what I had hoped for.
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on November 8, 2014
I didn't enjoy this book very much. There were some truly witty parts, but most of the humour was borderline cynical. I didn't really get a good picture of any of the characters, and didn't follow a lot of the stories and references I was left wanting more.

I enjoyed learning a bit about Mennonite culture and lifestyles, and I enjoyed the relationship between Rhoda and her sister.

Overall, it was a dark feeling, scattered type of book.
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