Thursday, November 10, 2011

MENNONITE IN A LITTLE BLACK DRESS – Rhoda Janzen


I bought this title last year when our neighboring community, which has a large Mennonite population, was buzzing about it. However, it was one of those books that I kept meaning to get to and kept moving around my bookshelf. Then the Jay County Public Library Book Group picked it which prodded me to get it read. I did like it a lot and recommend it but I have to confess at times Ms Jansen could have moved along if you know what I mean.

Everyone at discussion liked the book, some more than others. All of us could identify with being down and out but knowing that you can always go home and those there will still love you.

To put this book in a nutshell - Janzen unfolds a story of a person leaving roots and religion behind, making a life out in the world, then coming full-circle home to heal in the bosom of the family she left behind. She begins her memoir with her decision to go home after the breakup of her marriage and a serious automobile accident. If you pick it up though don't expect to get a tale of religious rebirth or a prodigal's return. While she tells us heartwarming stories of growing up in a close family, and the goodness found among her own people, she does not ever seem to feel that leaving was wrong and she certainly does not reaffirm her faith. Instead she points out the issues from her past that made her want to flea and how those issues still bother her.

This book is a memoir but also a look inside a denomination that most of us are not acquainted with of long skirts, submissive women, bonnets, and disapproval of higher education. We also get to see, over a 40 year period, how there seems to be some mellowing or softening of some of the rigid rules that Janzen grew up with. For instance when she was a girl dancing was against all rules. By the time she returns 15 years later, there is “liturgical movement” at church and young girls are allowed to take formal dance lessons.

I feel like much of the book was therapeutic for the author to help her accept the failure of her marriage to a man who after fifteen years revealed he is a homosexual. She still loves him and perhaps she always will. Janzen uses humor and sarcasm which I appreciate but she also illuminates her family and friends so tenderly that one can't help but feel an affinity with them. She doesn't stay but taking the trip home with her is worth the ride.

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