The book's dedication provides a hint about the motivations behind writing this book"
"To my home community, especially those who burned the other book."
The other book being referred to is the NYT best seller Mennnonite in a Little Black Dress
by Rhoda Janssen. <LINK TO MY REVIEW
> Lots of people, including me, read this "other book" and enjoyed some good laughs at the comic (though not completely accurate) representation of the world of Mennonites. So what's the problem with this other book? Well, not everyone is laughing. Some folks felt that they were being laughed at, not with. Furthermore, sticklers for historical accuracy winced at the inaccurate and/or incomplete descriptions contained in the "Black Dress" book.
Rhonda, author of this book, has a sort of epiphany when she finds Rhoda's book in a used book sale bin. It occurs to her that she is uniquely qualified to write a sort of rebuttal to that book. She is about the same age as Rhoda, grew up in the same town, and were both raised within the Mennonite Brethren Church community in Fresno, California. The big difference is that Rhoda left the Mennonite community and then later in her life wrote a book about Mennonites as an outsider looking back at where she came from. Rhonda had many of the same life experiences as Rhoda, but Rhonda continued to identify with Mennonites whenever and wherever they could be found in the various communities that she and her husband moved to.
Put another way, this is an author who experienced a growing appreciation of the anabaptist heritage of the Mennonite community at large, and in this book she is responding to another author who believed that the Mennonite community is something to escape from. I have experienced elements of both feelings, but in the long view I have developed a world view more closely to that of Rhonda's. Therefore, I experienced this book as an affirmation of many of my own life choices and experiences.
Rhonda accomplishes the goals for this book by simply writing her memoir. She delves into the nitty gritty of life which isn't all pleasant stuff. She confesses some of her personal and family's foibles and medical issues. But I got the sense that she's hanging-on and will endure. She won me over completely as her fan by the end of the book.
I enjoyed the following quotation describing the type of Mennonites she encountered in New York City:
"These are social justice seeking, subway riding Mennonites. These are Mennonites with positions at the U.N. ... These are radical discipleship Mennonites out to feed the hungry, free the oppressed, and in other ways follow the example of Jesus."
There's probably a bit of hyperbole in that quote, but I'm glad Mennonites are being well represented in the Big Apple.
I appreciated the Appendix at the book's end that provides a "New Mennonite Primer." She provides a simple description of today's Mennonite without sounding like a theologian or folk historian. The author proceeds to a dream vision of a long deceased progenitor coming to visit her family to see what has become of his descendants. This section reminds the reader that we may be products of our past, but we are also moving on to new and positive forms that fit our new present.
This book is not available from Amazon.com and probably not in your local book store either. It can be purchased from Lulu self publishing at this link
. It's available in paperback or PDF ebook.Review in June 25, 2012 Mennonite World Review Review in December 2011 Mennonite Brethren Herald