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Mennonite in a Little Black Dress: A Memoir of Going Home Paperback – 1 Jan 2011


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Product details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Books (1 Jan. 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 085789031X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0857890313
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.7 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (53 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 306,001 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

This book made me laugh until I cried... I loved it and would recommend it to anybody. --Jojo Moyes

Wonderfully intelligent and frank... I loved this book, and Rhoda Janzen. She is a terrific, pithy, beautiful writer, a reliable, sympathetic narrator and a fantastically good sport. --New York Times

This book is not just beautiful and intelligent, but also painfully - even wincingly - funny. It is rare that I literally laugh out loud while I'm reading, but Rhoda Janzen's voice - singular, deadpan, sharp-witted and honest - slayed me, with audible results. I have a list already of about fourteen friends who need to read this book. I will insist that they read it. Because simply put, this is the most delightful memoir I've read in ages. --Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love

About the Author

Rhoda Janzen holds a PhD from the University of California, Los Angeles, where she was the University of California Poet Laureate in 1994 and 1997. She is the author of Babel's Stair, a collection of poems, and her poems have also appeared in Poetry, The Yale Review, The Gettysburg Review, and The Southern Review. She teaches English and creative writing at Hope College in Holland, Michigan.

Customer Reviews

3.6 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

26 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Vanity Fair on 10 Jan. 2011
Format: Paperback
Not my usual thing but I'm a typical female reader who reads anything my Mum says is amazing- and she's always right!

Ten times better than Eat, Pray, Love here is the woman you would go to in times of need! Janzen is funny, thoughtful, optimistic, her story moves in ways you wouldn't expect with the frankness and laughter of a good friend. She's brave too, and her tale of looking into the past when confronting an unknown future after her marriage falls apart and she suffers great illness is genuinely inspiring. It makes for a nice easy read rather than one filled with loss and pain. Highly recommended- a lazy Sunday or long train journey kind of book.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Lovely Treez TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 13 Mar. 2011
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Forty-something American/Canadian Rhoda Janzen has had a terrible time of it. Her wonderful, gorgeous husband has left her for for a guy called Bob who he met on Gay.com and her troubles multiply as, in the same week, she is hospitalized following a serious road accident. Incapacitated, she decides to return to the bosom of her Mennonite family to lick her wounds.

So far so good, I am fascinated by the lifestyle of faith groups such as the Amish and Mennonites and I was eagerly anticipating how Rhoda, a self-proclaimed "bad" Mennonite and 21st Century girl would fit back into this conservative Christian community. However....what I got instead was more like a marathon stint by a stand-up comedian - the "pee-bag" joke was funny the first time I read it but then it cropped up again, and again, and again.. Yes, it's good to be self-deprecating in a world which sometimes encourages us to wallow in self-pity but after a while it just becomes irksome and there's surely only so many custard pies you can throw in the face of quirky family and friends before the humour fizzles out.

I would have enjoyed this more if it hadn't been a book - odd to say in the midst of a book review, I know. Janzen tells us that friends encouraged her to write the book after receiving funny e-mails from her about her return to the Mennonite community. Indeed it is like a series of rambling e-mails except we don't have the benefit of dates to aid our navigation through the jumble of anecdotes which would have been much better suited to blog posts or a weekly newspaper column. Janzen jumps about through time and space at a pace which would give Captain Kirk a run for his money. I wanted to know more about how she felt, not hear another tale about her mother's flatulence! Oh and there's a potted history of Mennonites and a few recipes from her Mom tacked on at the end - something for all the family!
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By hbw VINE VOICE on 18 Mar. 2011
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
As an academic and a feminist, Rhoda Janzen's life is built around critical thinking and challenging received ideas. None of which explains how she ended up in an abusive marriage with a man who dumped her for Bob from gay.com.

When her misery is compounded by a car accident, Rhoda decides to take a sabbatical in the form of an extended visit to her parents and the strictly religious Mennonite community in which they live.

The result is a thoughtful and, at times, intensely funny reflection on the author's Mennonite upbringing and its lasting influence. This is no navel gazing exercise - Janzen is as interested in the lives of her mother's generation as her own. And, although she rejected God and the Mennonite worldview at an early age, she takes time to reflect on the experiences of those contemporaries who have remained in the Mennonite fold.

"My Little Black Mennonite Dress" isn't the tale of a miserable childhood,a polemic against religion or, despite the publicity, about someone returning to their roots. It is, however, a well-written, insightful memoir in which the author looks back on her life through eyes which have matured in middle-age to detect shades of grey where they once saw only black and white.

It's fair to say that The Mennonite and academic backgrounds to this book are distinctly American and some of the cultural references may be lost on many British readers. My other criticism is that the book seems to end in an abrupt and slightly unsatisfying way.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Mrs. PJ Taylor VINE VOICE on 7 Feb. 2011
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
If you enjoyed the Lake Wobegon books of Garrison Keillor, you will definitely appreciate this book. The writing is pithy, honest, very funny and slightly off-the-wall in many places.

The book is autobiographical and follows the emotional and physical recuperation of Rhoda Janzen after her husband leaves her for a man he met on Gay.com and she is badly injured in a car accident. Returning home to her family (I hadn't heard of Mennonites before, but think liberal Amish and you're getting close)where she reconnects with the old-fashioned values of her community's faith. These guys are sweet but very odd and have eating habits that makes the Germans look sophisticated.

It is a charming account and avoids gloom and sentimentality. There is a fair amount of introspection, but done with humour and laudable objectivity. I can heartily recommend it.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By purplepadma VINE VOICE on 12 Feb. 2011
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I started out really enjoying the opening chapter of Mennonite in a Little Black Dress. The author is droll and self-deprecating, describing her recovery from botched surgery and her need to use a catheter bag, and her abandonment by her husband for a man met on gay.com, with a light, wry tone which made me laugh aloud several times. Sadly, the remainder didn't live up to the promise of the opening. Confused and wondering where to turn, Rhoda Janzen returns home to her Mennonite parents, whose lifestyle she has long since abandoned. But don't expect any revelations, or even any sense of narrative. What follows is a mixture of Janzen's memories of her relationship with her bipolar, bisexual husband, interspersed with her almost anthropological observations of her extended family. I was unable to read the memoir without wondering, increasingly uncomfortably, what her family felt about their exposure to public scrutiny, and why Janzen would want to do the same for her own incredibly destructive marital relationship. The urge to do so would have made more sense had she drawn any significant insights from her return to her Mennonite roots, but a tentative discussion with her sister about whether a very religious upbringing has made it difficult for her to assert herself is about as far as it gets. Her marriage is shocking to read about, full of frankly abusive behaviour from her husband which is continually excused on grounds of his bipolarity and brilliant personality, but almost as shocking that even when the marriage ends due to his infidelity, Janzen herself still doesn't seem to see him as abusive.
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