Mothering Mennonite edited by Rachel Epp Buller and Kerry Fast(2013,Demeter Press)
Book review by Elsie Rempel
When I saw the title, Mothering Mennonite, I expected some reflective, anecdotal narratives on the topic of mothering by Mennonite women, reflecting on that aspect of their own lives. I expected a relatively easy read. So, the professional focus on mothers of the past, or on women in conservative Mennonite communities that I found between the covers of this book surprised me.Even though it wasn’t what I’d expected, it was a very worthwhile read.
Common threads that ties the diverse essays in this volume together are that all focus on aspects of mothering in Mennonite communities and each writer approaches their topics as a women with well honed academic tools. When academic tools of literary and sociological analyses are applied to topics such as: self perception, voice, agency, milk, dance, play, storytelling, cooking, singleness, barrenness, persecution and hope unique and fascinating essays result.
While academeze is not my favoured vocabulary, my interest in the topics and the women being described kept me reading right through to the final essay. Many of the lives of Mennonite women that are described in this book are shaped by home, hearth, and a conservative patriarchal culture. By contrast, the writers of the essays, who are mainly Mennonite women, have moved beyond these boundaries to define their work lives in the world of academia.
This results in unique exercises of identification and distance and produces a creative tension which is worth its own essay. So many of us more progressive Mennonite women regularly live with a similar tension; the tension of learning to live well in spheres of both domesticity and professionalism.
I sensed the story of living in that new reality, which is common for many of today’s Mennonite mothers, emerging between the lines of written script in this book. A concluding essay of this type would have strengthened the collection, but that may be the task of a coming generation of academically trained Mennonite mothers. Now this Mennonite mother and grandmother is going to go bake some cookies.