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Mennonite in a Little Black Dress: A Memoir of Going Home (Platinum Readers Circle (Center Point)) Library Binding – Large Print, 1 Apr 2010
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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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Sometimes you have to go back in order to move forward: the number one US bestseller now available in the UK.
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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.
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!
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.
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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