I recently read a new release, Mennonite in a Little Black Dress, as refreshingly unique as its title. This memoir first came to my attention when the publicist contacted me about the possibility of reading and reviewing this book after being impressed by my blog (not sure which one. I have several). As it turns out, I was a particularly good candidate and gladly agreed. I married into the Mennonite community a number of years ago and have a vested interest in the warm-hearted people author Rhoda Janzen humorously and touchingly describes. Although raised Presbyterian, I’m a member of the NEW Order Mennonite Church, for better or worse. They’ve been good to me.

*The OLD Order Mennonites are the ones who drive horse and buggies and wear the Laura Ingalls Wilder style clothes, many of whom are our neighbors here in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. But I digress.

Reading in fascination, almost morbidly intrigued at times, I followed Rhonda Janzen through her train-wreck life and marriage to a man who left her for a guy named Bob he met on Gay.com. How much worse can it get, I wondered, ever assured by her witty insights and courage that somehow, someway, she’d make it through. Poetic, beautiful, sometimes bizarre, Mennonite in a Little Black Dress is a journey of self-discovery by a deeply wounded woman with an irrepressible spirit. The very people she’d left behind play a vital role in her healing as she returns to her roots. I cheered her on, alternating laughing my head off and shaking it in utter bemusement, even cringing at some points. I felt for her as I might my own sister and wanted to tell her ‘Stop making excuses for that total loser husband and recognize your own self worth!’ which she eventually does.

As Mennonites are a people who love to cook, noted for their fabulous pot luck dinners, an added feature is the food Rhonda often refers to. Many of the dishes/recipes she mentions are of ethnic Mennonite origin. Some are known to me and some not at all. Here, I pause to mention how impressed I've been by the culinary skills of Mennonite women whose cooking I've been privileged to sample. The recipes Rhonda mentions are of German/Russian origin but in Virginia the Pennsylvania Dutch have also influenced Mennonite cuisine, probably for the better considering how awful some of the dishes she describes sound. I own several Mennonite cookbooks, one put together by the women of our church, a committee headed up by my mother in law, an excellent cook.

Back to Rhonda Janzen and her book, I thoroughly enjoyed Mennonite in a Little Black Dress and look forward to more from this highly talented 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.

"...Simply put, this the most delightful memoir I've read in ages.” ~ Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love

13 comments

  1. Judy // November 18, 2009 at 7:37 AM  

    Beth, thanks for a great review! Learning about other cultures and groups is always fascinating to me. Thanks for sharing a little bit about your life along with the book. Cute title, cute book cover and sounds like a great story.

  2. Autumn Jordon // November 18, 2009 at 9:02 AM  

    I live not far from the PA mennonite community. Infact my home was built by mennonites. It's a strong structure. I'd love to read this. Do you know who the publisher is and where we can find it?

    AJ

  3. Mary Marvella // November 18, 2009 at 9:03 AM  

    Well now, Beth. We keep learning new things about you. Great review. You made the book sound like a must read.

  4. Beth Trissel // November 18, 2009 at 9:29 AM  

    Thanks! The publisher is Henry Holt and Co. and the book is available in most any bookstore.

  5. Beth Trissel // November 18, 2009 at 11:49 AM  

    I should add that my being a historical romance author is quite an oddity in the Mennonite community.

  6. Mona Risk // November 18, 2009 at 12:06 PM  

    I never heard about mennonites before. It's very interesting to learn about them. Thanks for sharing, Beth.

  7. Anonymous // November 18, 2009 at 1:44 PM  

    Great blog,
    So interesting to hear about you and this lady's story. Thanks for sharing.
    Patrice

  8. Beth Trissel // November 18, 2009 at 3:38 PM  

    I never knew about Mennonites either until I dated my husband to be.

  9. Pamela Varnado // November 18, 2009 at 4:57 PM  

    Great review. I love learning about new cultures and plan to buy the book on my next trip to the bookstore. The simple ways of the mennonite community has always appealed to me. Thanks for sharing.

  10. Scarlet Pumpernickel // November 18, 2009 at 7:44 PM  

    Beth,
    This sounds like an interesting read. There is Mennonite community in South Georgia I enjoy stopping there, they have a bakery and restaurant. Thanks for sharing. Didn't know you had a family connection, how neat!

    Scarlet

  11. Mary Ricksen // November 18, 2009 at 7:52 PM  

    How cool to learn more about you. You ought to do a blog about the community. I'd love to learn more. How amazing your life is Beth!

  12. Beth Trissel // November 18, 2009 at 9:26 PM  

    Thanks! Yes, I'm quite connected.

  13. Joanne // November 19, 2009 at 1:57 PM  

    Thank you, Beth, for your review. Normally, I might not be interested in this type of book, but you've definitely caught my attention. BTW, love the title!