Review of Mary Ann Loewen, ed. Sons and Mothers: Stories from Mennonite Men (Regina, Saskatchewan: University of Regina Press, 2015).
Mary Ann Loewen’s brief anthology Sons and Mothers: Stories from Mennonite Men is a striking piece of literature that will challenge and touch any reader with its poignant insights into the struggles of family dynamics and faith. Sons and Mothers is comprised of both prose and poetry from around a dozen Canadian Mennonite men, primarily of Russian descent, reflecting on their relationships with their mothers.
Unsurprisingly, many core themes are found in the stories. Food, family, hospitality, discipline, and dedicated worship touch almost every work, and the rich colors of memories are deftly supplied by the contributing authors. Beyond these lighter threads, however, are the deeper undercurrents perceived by now-adult sons: the stifling hand of masculine authority in the church; the continuing suffering brought on by the flight out of the cracking Russian Empire; and the domestic lifestyles thrust upon too young, too inexperienced, women. It is these truths, often unspoken but constantly felt, that define families and relationships for generations.
Another ever-present discussion is that of faith. Several authors, notably Josiah Neufeld, heap praise on the honest and deep faith instilled in them by their mothers. Despite the almost constant admiration, the majority of the authors seem to have found themselves at odds with the church’s effects in their mother’s lives; frustration hides just beneath the surface. A desire by the sons for their mothers to have experienced more in life was an unexpected but powerful theme.
A highlight of the collection was the essay from Andrew C. Martin, titled “Reconciling Caring and Conflict: A Memoir of Mom.” Though many authors opened up wounds while examining their childhoods, Martin’s simple honesty about the less than perfect household that he grew up in stood out as uniquely insightful. His parents’ marital discord colored his childhood with violence and frustration, but his own faith journey led him to forgiveness and admiration for the unfaltering love of his mother.
Sons and Mothers is, at its base, a story of the generations, of history, and of the transition in the Mennonite church that has taken us from strict fundamentalist colonies to “worldly” modern peacemakers. Every young person raised in the Mennonite church will benefit from the reflections and challenges of men reconciling their own faith and lives through the lenses of their mother’s successes and failures.