Mennonite in a Little Black Dress

Just a little disclosure up front – my mother is the library director in Arthur, IL (librarianship runs in the family).  Arthur is known for being a center for  Amish and Mennonite communities in Illinois.  I spent two summers in college working at my mom’s library as a shelver, working around the Amish and Mennonite patrons as they’d come in to browse the library, often barefoot. 

Ever since then, I’ll read just about anything about the Amish and Mennonite . . .

So “Mennonite in a Little Black Dress” by Rhoda Janzen is a  natural for me, but I think lots of people would think it was hilarious.  Janzen is woman who grew up in a Mennonite family, but ended up getting a PhD in English, and marrying a man who was also an academic.  She definitely moved far from her roots.

Around the time she turned 40, two bad things happened to her: 1) she was in a bad car accident and needed time off to recover, 2) her husband left her for another man.

This may not seem like the starting point for hilarity, but Janzen definitely has the ability to see the humor (often a little raw, so reader beware) in tough situations.  She moves back in with her grumpy, retired Mennonite pastor father, and her mother, a nurse who probably became a nurse because there was nothing about the body or its functions that she wasn’t willing to discuss at inappropriate times.

This book feels very real (and it is; it’s nonfiction).  After all, lots of us have the experience of going back to our family of origin and wondering how the heck did I come from this family?  It doesn’t matter whether the family in question is Mennonite or not,  although some of the German family traditions will strike a chord with a lot of readers.

The nice thing about this book, truly, is that, all in all, it’s about a functional family.  Sure the parents are different (and they really are), and some of the situations  made me snort coffee out of my nose with laughter, but the family, despite all the differences, still loves and relates to each other. That’s the type of family that we can all enjoy. Plus, the author picked herself up and dusted herself off after some truly crummy situations, and she’s a great character to root for.

Fountaindale Public Library District does own a copy of this title – visit our catalog to see if it is in or to request it.

–Jennie M.

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