New books for 2023: Fiction books

Pinching Zwieback and MennoFolk3 Pinching Zwieback and MennoFolk3

The Nov. 24 issue of Anabaptist World includes several mini reviews of recent books. Some of them are fiction books.

The latest work of Mennonite fiction to rise from the plains of Steinbach, Man., eschews a linear path in favor of revealing its narrative by hopscotching across a cast of characters and times. The loosely linked stories of Pinching Zwieback (At Bay) are informed by author Mitchell Toews’ familiarity with this corner of Manitoba, which becomes the muse of yet another scribe. Small-town Mennonite life — in which a loving God sees all but neighbors see more — is the crucible in which individuals are expected to conform to the defined roles of an insular community. Who belongs, when waves of migration blur names and languages, whether from Russia, Mexico or elsewhere, never mind the original Indigenous folk and pioneers who thought they were doing right? To what extent can grandchildren be defined by ancestors’ decisions? Why is conflict always so near people of peace? The streets and churches and a handful of Plautdietsch words stay the same, yet life evolves — sometimes too quickly, sometimes too slowly. Toews throws in context for the Low German beginner but also adds a glossary at the back. Pinching zwieback is the process of forming small baked buns — hard but necessary work if you are going to eat something come Faspa time. And while the community’s baker is sometimes marginalized, everyone needs daily bread. With humor, grit and the poetic grace of someone in love with a small town and its warts, Toews constructs a collection of stories of practical folk discerning across generations what should remain and what should be let go. — Tim Huber

Stories and jokes Mennonites tell at potlucks, reunions and coffee hours might be as representative of our church and cultural life as the official minutes, documents and literary traditions. People interested in knowing about Men­nonite and Amish life a half century ago, whether inside or outside the tradi­tion, are indebted to Ervin Beck. An accomplished scholar of American, English and Mennonite literature, based at Goshen College in Indiana, he honors this most humble of literary disciplines: folk life and art. MennoFolk3: Puns, Riddles, Tales, Legends (Painted Glass) is his third book in a series, which he readily admits is too esoteric for the general reader. Still, he says, he made the book “to preserve ephemeral artifacts of a Mennonite-Amish culture of a certain era that is rapidly succumbing to mainstream interests and tastes.” Several generations from now, some student or great-grandchild may find it of interest to learn more of how Mennonite and Amish life was lived and how they entertained themselves in oral stories in mid-20th-century rural America. Ervin Beck and his books signal the way. — Levi Miller

Anabaptist World

Anabaptist World Inc. (AW) is an independent journalistic ministry serving the global Anabaptist movement. We seek to inform, inspire and Read More

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