Sunday, June 27, 2010

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen

I am not usually big on memoirs or autobiographies. They bug me because they often jump around and have that "I'm so important it doesn't matter that my writing is pathetic - you'll still read it anyway" attitude. But, this one was different. Maybe because Rhoda is already a writer and an editor - her PHD in poetry or writing or literary research of something like that gives her a pretty strong pedigree. Or maybe it's because her story is the memoir of pieces of my own history - I'm a Mennonite too. But, not a Russian descended, California raised, conservative, former General Conference Mennonite. To most of you that is just splitting hairs - but to this Old Mennonite, mid-western raised, German Mennonite - it's still a difference.

I really enjoyed this book. I guess I haven't said that yet. There is something deeply funny about irreverently poking fun at the heritage we all grew up with - no dancing, funny clothes, odd foods and a work ethic that simply never stops. There is also something interesting about reading the history of a woman who turned her back on the Mennonite world and chose a path to academia rather than Mennonite community connections, acts of service in the church and occupations that fit in the Menno framework. It is interesting that in all her expostulating about the benefits of turning her back - she certainly spends a lot of time noticing what is good about being a Mennonite. (Oh yeah - and she uses some really big words here and there)

So - how does this appeal to those of you who aren't Mennos? If you have lived near, worked with or been married to a menno you will probably understand a lot of what is being said. But, remember - all their weird foods are not ours. My family didn't grow up with such a love of cabbage! Thank goodness!!!

My recommendation...
This is a story of a 40 something woman on the wrong side of a marriage and a career who returns to her family to reconnect after a devastating car accident. She happens to be Mennonite. But, I think all of us in that time frame appreciate what it means to turn around and re-prioritize our lives! Her stories about camping with her family, her mom's odd conversation connections and the way the addition of in-laws both benefits and destroys a family are excellent and ring true no matter what your religious affiliation is.

No comments: