I love books about cults. The more polygamous marriages, multiple children, bizarre religious practices and outlandish views, the better. I also love novels set in the Amish community, the Mormon community and the Quaker community because, as a Jew, I find insights into little-known or oft-misunderstood religions fascinating.
It’s strange, then, that in my literary travels, I’d never come across Mennonites.
They’re a devout but very friendly and unusually tolerant (of non-Mennonites, that is) sect of Christian Anabaptistdenomination, with their origins in German and Dutch-speaking central Europe. It’s from the Mennonites that the Amish broke away in the 17th century because the former were ‘too liberal’. I mean, have you ever?
But this little write-up makes them sound very boring, when they’re quite divine. The book in question, Rhoda Janzen’s Mennonite in a Little Black Dress, reveals the eccentricities, naiveties and family foibles with which the author is faced when she moves back home after having been abandoned by her suddenly-gay husband.
Her people welcome her back with open arms and weird advice, like “Why not date your first cousin? He owns a tractor!” This, from Janzen’s mother. Her father is a theologian and doyen of the community, so Janzen grew up in a traditional household. Most things were banned, she explains, like “Drinking, dancing, smoking, sex outside of marriage, sex inside of marriage, gambling, playing cards, foul language like the word ‘fool’, Ouija boards, slumber parties, divorce, Prada…”
Written with self-effacing, delicious humour – and tackling universal issues like faith, love and family, Mennonite is both moving and absolutely hilarious. I adored it.