Monday, October 6, 2014

Book review: Blush by Shirley Hershey Showalter (memoir)

After I took my husband's surname things started to change. I started receiving questions like, "Do Mennonites...?" or "When Mennonites...?"

"I don't know, I'm not Mennonite," I answered and watched facial expressions change from interest to disappointment.

"But your surname is Mennonite," I was told.

It is possible to look like a tree and not be a tree.

Dyck is Mennonite. But my mom was Icelandic-Canadian and my dad was British (English, Welsh, Irish and Scottish)-Canadian. I can field questions like, "What languages do they speak in Iceland?"
(Icelandic and English)
or "What's Yorkshire pudding?"
(It's kind of like puffed pastry. Served with meat, adds this vegetarian.)

Blurb at the back of the book:  Little Shirley Hershey grew up in a plain Mennonite home, yet was named for a movie star. With her nose pressed to the window of the glittering world, she felt intensely the gap that existed in the 1950s and '60s between Mennonites and the larger world. This is the story of how a rosy-cheeked, barefoot Mennonite farm girl prepared to enter the glittering world and learned how to do so on her own terms. 

This engaging childhood memoir tells the story of a Mennonite girl who might have left the church but found another way.

My desire to read Blush was driven by a longing to understand a culture that was foreign to me. But I was surprised to discover many similarities between Shirley and I--church membership alienated me from my peers and I blushed easily, to name but two.

And as Shirley writes in the closing chapters of Blush, 'I now know something about my ancestors I didn't know when I was young. I'm connected to a limestone trail that leads back not just to Germany and Switzerland, to mountains and caves and cowbells and memories of martyrs--but also to Celts who found God in trees and skies and all living things. My ancestors' path leads all the way back to Africa and there connects to all other lives in the birthplace of the human race.' (p. 250)

I flipped the book open searching for information but it was this invitation -- 'I'm heading down into the arch cellar of memory now. Come along.' (p. 15) -- that I found irresistible. 

Shirley's writing is conversational and engaging, like chatting with a friend around a kitchen table. She generously shares details about her church and her family. Her relationship with her supportive, loving mother helped mold her strong personality and shaped her dreams to explore all of life's wonders. Later, when Shirley grew old enough to attend school, she benefited from dedicated teachers who ignited her passion for learning.

Did I learn more about the Mennonite faith?

Yes and, thanks to a glossary at the back of the book, this information is easily accessible.

However, I also learned that there are culture differences between Mennonites. The mouthwatering dishes my mother-in-law serves were not included amongst the pages of recipes in this book. I wondered why and then realized that whereas Shirley is Swiss-German, the family I married into is Russian-German.

Thank you for writing this book, Shirley. I'm sure Owen and Julia will treasure it. And I have a request, please transform those four binders you and your mother kept while you were in university into another book. 

Sharing my author journey...
This week was full of tons of reading as I recovered from a recent setback (dental problem). I spend through book after book and look forward to sharing my thoughts on what I read in the coming weeks. Unfortunately, the pain killers I was on forced me to abandon my computer for my chesterfield. But ideas for my writing projects followed me there. This week, as I am feeling better, I look forward to turning these plains into words on paper.