Despite the fact that Anna Ruth Ediger Baehr danced with her Mennonite father, we all know that Mennonites don’t dance. Except for . . . Lizbeth, in the eponymous story in Darcie Friesen Hossack’s book MENNONITES DON’T DANCE, a girl who wanted to fall “straight into the real world”, go to a matinee, or at least, “be outside and running”. But when Lizbeth danced, her world whirled apart, and she lost the rhythm of family life, of Mennonite culture.
Darcie Friesen Hossack is the choreographer for this circle dance of prairie stories about Mennonite families. She incorporates many of life’s big dance steps: loss of innocence, betrayal, forgiveness, redemption, restoration of hope, integrity, joy and love.
The book helped me remember the impact of the words I overheard when a child, the profound changes in me which were wrought by an adult’s seemingly banal action. The life of parents and other adult relatives is so mysterious. A sensitive child is always listening, watching, for some phrase, a tone of voice, or action that will bring meaning, that will illuminate the mystery of why these persons in whom we have trusted behave as humans, and fail, let us down, cruelly hurt us, and then sometimes take us back in their arms with love. A sensitive Mennonite child listens hard, for the clues can be like the dandelion wine a Mennonite mother hides in a concealed room in the cellar, and reveals to her daughter when the time is ripe. Or in another story, like a strip of torn wallpaper that triggers an understanding of how a difficult life was lived.
Jim Bartley of the Toronto Globe and Mail has given a nod to this book as among the “best first fiction of 2011”. The book is up for some other honors and awards, and it deserves them. Darcie, I’ll read your next book eagerly.
“Dancing in all its forms cannot be excluded from the curriculum of all noble education; dancing with the feet, with ideas, with words, and, need I add that one must also be able to dance with the pen?” ~Friedrich Nietzsche
Mennonites don’t dance? Darcie Friesen Hossack dances with words. She swings around her point of view, waltzes with suffering and love, does the two-step with dialog and setting.
Alert: If you are an ethnic Russian Mennonite from Canada, don’t read this book on an empty stomach. You will be craving pluma moose, rollkuchen and verenyky. As Darcie has commented, food is almost a character in her stories.
Mennonites Don’t Dance by Darcie Friesen Hossack
Saskatoon, SK: Thistledown Press, 2010; 201 pp.; ISBN: 978-1-897235-78-2; paperback $17.95.