Book Critique: Rhoda Janzen’s “Mennonite in a Little Black Dress”

Rhoda Janzen book coverIt’s one thing to read a book about faith. It is another to read a book about the realities of life colored by faith and the struggle women face in reconciling the two. In reading all these books about women, their spiritual journey in discovering who they are and what their faith means both in theory and reality of life, it is clear that each woman experienced radically different life events with flavored with faith, and yet, they are all exactly the same.

As women we endure life. We take what comes our way, we fight and live, and accept the best we can in the circumstances we have been dealt. We forge a path that blends the faith ingrained within us and the life choices we have made, reconciling the evident discrepancies between them. In Rhoda Janzen’s book, “Mennonite in a Little Black Dress” she traces her life’s journey through chapters that vaguely, if not metaphorically represent each chapters’ life lesson.

I admit, I had no idea what a  Mennonite was and so, I looked up the definition:  A Mennonite is “a member of an evangelical Protestant sect, originating in Europe in the 16th century, that opposes infant baptism, practices baptism of believers only, restricts marriage to members of the denomination, opposes war and bearing arms, and is noted for simplicity of living and plain dress.”

Having this understanding, it makes clear how she handles the most devastating event of her life – her husband leaving her for a man he met on gay.com. She repeats this many times (in almost that exact phrase) throughout the book – I think because to her it seems so unbelievable that putting it in print reminds her that it’s real. Calling her real estate agent in response to the news and her husbands’ leaving seems an irrational reaction, but taking into consideration her faith it makes sense. Her reaction and continual journey to find an explanation for this unexpected turn of events seems to consume her. This has not only been a life-changing event, it has also defined her.

Rhoda JanzenGoing home, for many people, is cathartic. It reminds them of their roots, both why they left and the longing for a feeling of belonging. It is both comfortable and energizing. Home is like no other place in the world. It reminds us of where we came from and who we are and are not.

Rhoda’s tone in the book is slightly comical, plain – as her faith teaches her she ought to be, and relatable. Women, despite varying circumstances, understand the pain, suffering, triumph and victories that life handed Rhoda, and in turn ourselves. We can empathize even if we have never walked a day in her shoes.

Janzen’s plainness translates well into transparency and makes the book easy to read. As a writer I tried to take in her stories both individually and as a whole. Understanding how she weaved the stories throughout the book to make a cohesive whole is an important skill I am working on refining.

I appreciated her perspective and her skill as a writer. I hope to be able to take pieces from this book, her story, her life and translate it into my own writing.

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