Mennonite In A Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen

This book didn’t make it into “Currently Reading,” because I tore through it in one sitting in the middle of the night when I couldn’t sleep.  And then immediately wanted to read it again, just to prolong the time with the author.

Rhoda Janzen was raised in a Mennonite community in northern California.  According the the primer in the back of the book, the Amish split from the Mennonites in 1693 because “the rest of us were too liberal.”  They’re strong on family values, love cooking, are anti-war, and anti-consumer.  The older generation of North American Mennonites grew up speaking Low German, so there are lots of interesting German words and phrases sprinkled through the book.  Even after the primer, I’m still not completely sure what the Mennonite lifestyle entails, but I know they can whip up a meal for twelve with five minutes notice, and that it will involve Borscht.

Janzen was a professor at a college in Michigan when a series of events led her to take a sabbatical and move back in with her parents for a time.  First, she had an undisclosed illness that lead to a hysterectomy.  She never planned on having children, so she wasn’t too upset about it, even though everyone told her she should be.  Second, her husband left her for a man named Bob he met on  Then she was in a traffic accident that left her with multiple broken bones.  That’s enough to make anyone run home to mom and dad.

Yet Janzen never feels sorry for herself.  Even when describing the antics her husband got up to before the divorce, when he was a charming bipolar who refused medication and screamed terrible things at her.  You can feel the pain these times caused her, but also the strength she has to overcome and live through them.  And then joke about them.  Her sense of humor about life is dark, wicked, and wondrous.  I can only hope to be as funny as she about the trials in my life.  It helps that she’s a poet, with a PhD from UCLA and a background in modern languages.  Her use of language is lovely, very conversational and meandering but precise in her words.

I’m not doing this little book justice with this review, because I just want to quote sections to show how brilliant it is.  It is a joy to read, thoughtful and funny.  Request it from you library, order it from Amazon, sit and read it at Barnes & Noble.  You won’t regret it.


February 15, 2010. Tags: . Books.


  1. Melinda replied:

    Ooooooh…this one sounds good…I definately need shorter books at the minute, as I’m low on time…what made you pick it up????

  2. amockingbird replied:

    I read a review in the NY Times, tore it out and added it to my hold list from the library. The whole book feels like getting to know someone you really want to be friends with.

    • Laura replied:

      You’ve convinced me! I have a BN gift card burning a hold in my pocket…I’m going to order it 🙂 This sounds really fascinating and I would like to cook Borscht for 12 people.

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