Monday, January 16, 2012

Humorous Homecomings

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress
(A Memoir of Going Home)
by Rhoda Janzen

After reading Horse-and-Buggy Mennonites, I've been mostly sticking to lighter fare. It only seemed fitting that I should read Mennonite in a Little Black Dress when I saw it sitting on my Mom-mom's shelf. First off, it was a much quicker read than Horse-and-Buggy. The Mennonites of Rhoda Janzen's memoir are a much more light-hearted, modern bunch. She shifts easily from tales of her childhood in the Mennonite community as the daughter of a Mennonite leader, to her return home after a difficult marriage and devastating car accident.

As a child, Janzen was mortified by the clothes she was required to wear and the traditional foods packed in her lunch box. At times, her recounting of her upbringing seems quite scathing. Seeking a scholarly and worldly life, Janzen left the Mennonite faith after college. Returning home in her early forties, she rediscovers old friends and finds solace in many of the traditions and habits of her family and faith. She attacks the most difficult times of her life with humor and an undeniable sense of self, and keeps her eyes and heart open for new opportunities. Even if it means being set up on dates with Mennonite men decades younger than herself.

It was fun for me to be able to compare the Mennonite community of Janzen's life to the Wengers of Horse-and-Buggy Mennonites. Certainly different orders of Mennonites approach modernization and worldliness with differing perspectives, but the sense of community and inter-dependence was evident in both groups. Even though Janzen broke from the faith as an adult, she remained close to her family and in her own humorous and irreverent way, enthralled by the Mennonite lifestyle. In looking back and examining her childhood, she ultimately is able to move forward with her life, knowing she can draw on the strengths of her Mennonite upbringing.

I should note that this book does have some crude and raunchy parts, especially as Janzen discusses her ex-husband and his new relationship. So if you aren't up for some cursing and vulgarity, pass on this one.

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