Mennonite in a Little Black Dress ~ Rhoda Janzen

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Date Completed: 2/2/2017

Rating: 9/10

Rhoda Janzen really has a way with words. Her humor dripped off nearly every sentence in her book, and although she repeated her jokes every now and then, her humor was on point. My funny bone was struck with this memoir of going home. Janzen explores her adult life with gusto, everything from her car accident to her husband leaving her for a guy named Bob he met on, Janzen does not mind exploring every aspect of her life for the world to see.

Janzen was born into the Mennonite community, and as the title suggests, much of the humor has to do with her Mennonite upbringing. However, Janzen has really aced the skill of finding the humor in her religious upbringing without shaming or overly criticizing the community/religion. She does not rip it apart or treat it unfairly. She openly admits that being a Mennonite did not work for her, but readily puts forward that she respects those who feel it does the trick for them. She is adept at putting herself forward without real judgment.

Janzen had a particular essay that struck home for me, which was written with regards to relationships and interacting with other people. She was discussing her relationship with her now ex-husband, Nick, and how she learned to forgive him and herself. She so clearly stated the importance of taking care of yourself but also maintaining the responsibility that you hold as part of that mutual relationship. So often we turn to blaming and pointing fingers rather than trying to understand where someone else is coming from and taking responsibility for our own actions and reactions to things.

Janzen also normalized a lot of seemingly embarrassing topics. I think we could all do with ¬†little more of that Mennonite inability to be shamed. She blazes through the topic of pee-bags boldly. Kids talking about farts and pooping their pants? No biggie, quite the conversation! Is mom being too blunt and talking about the most self-conscious parts of yourself that you hide away out of shame? Maybe mom has a point and you should flaunt what you’ve got. All this is to say that Janzen tells it how it is and I really appreciate that attitude.

There were a couple of jokes that missed their mark with me, but I attribute it to this book being slightly older and not quite with the times. For the most part, my roommate and I were roaring with laughter, particularly at the Appendix on the history of Mennonite culture, which was super condensed and very sardonically written.

Rhoda Janzen has written two memoirs and a collection of essays. She holds a Ph.D from UCLA and teaches at a college in Michigan. To find out more about Janzen, I would recommend reading her memoirs! (Which by the way come with some great recipes for Borscht and other classic Mennonite dishes.) You can also visit her on her website.




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