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Rhoda Janzen, Mennonite in a Little Black Dress; A Memoir of Going Home (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2009), 244pp.Rhoda Janzen, Mennonite in a Little Black Dress; A Memoir of Going Home (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2009), 244pp.

           Rhoda Janzen was forty-three years old when she returned to her Mennonite family in Fresno, California. It was a wise decision, for in the coming year she learned that "I should have never taken my Mennonite genes for granted." Janzen's husband of fifteen years had just left her for a man named Bob whom he met on It turns out that he suffered from bipolar disease, abused alcohol, and was suicidal. Six days after he left she was in a horrific car accident. Then a hysterectomy. Broke and broken, she returned to the community that she had abandoned twenty-five years earlier.

           Back with her family and community, Janzen came to appreciate their healing powers, the wisdom of its ways, and the tenderness of its world view. Her father was famous in Mennonite circles, and her mother was a nurse with congenital cheerfulness. These are people, she points out, who oppose war in principle, who visit the sick with a jar of homemade jam, who eschew self-pity, and who care for the poor all around the world. Throughout her memoir Janzen employs heavy doses of self-deprecating humor and disarming candor to describe how she was the maker of many of her own problems — accommodating, enabling, and denying.

           In one funny chapter she lists her own hard-earned 12 steps. In another she reviews the peculiarities of Mennonite foods. Childhood memories surface and provide further material for reflection. Along the way we get an insider's view of the Mennonite sub-culture (Sunday School, vacation Bible school, missionary societies) and its taboos (sex, education, dancing). "Without my husband," she writes on the last page, "I had somehow drifted back to this point of origin. . . I suddenly had the feeling you get when, after a long sea swim, you touch bottom and draw a breath of relief: you made it, land ho, sharks from this point on extremely unlikely."

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