Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Midwife of Hope River

There are few things more pleasurable in the reading life than sinking into a historical novel with a keen sense of place and lots of little daily-life details to get lost in. Plus, it's about midwifery, and I'm kind of obsessed with that.


Patience Murphy is a newish midwife in Appalachia in the 1920s and early 1930s. Her life is full of secrets and a complicated past that she hides from her closest friends and guards from the locals out of fear. While she works tirelessly, delivering children for every person at every social class, it's what she has to do to survive. 

This was one of the books recommended to me when I asked specifically for midwifery-related recommendations, and it did not disappoint. Appalachia during this time period was brutal in a number of ways: living conditions; unemployment; horrible working conditions, especially in mines and complicated by unions. Marriage and birth were equally treacherous at times, and this book is most certainly not chock-full of happy deliveries. Some happy deliveries, mind you, but some casualties, too.

The strength of this novel is the depth of character in Patience Murphy, and the colorful past that injects some additional interest and some additional issues into Harman's work. Admittedly, I'm not terribly well schooled on the conditions in mines during this time, and while I saw some familiar names, I'm not very well educated on the role of unions and union-related violence during this period. But it's something I'll be sure to research now!

I enjoyed Patience's relationship with her friend and midwife's assistant, Bitsy. She is an African American woman turned out of the home where she's originally employed, and Patience takes her in. She soon finds that Bitsy is able in every way--a great shot, great gardener, and a great help in her midwife's duties. From another perspective, it's a little disappointing to continue to see African American women as the sidekicks. Where's the book about the African American midwife during this time? They existed! Maybe someone will tell that story next.  But to smooth that over, I do have to say that Bitsy was Patience's equal in every way except through the eyes of the region. Without Bitsy as her friend and confidante, she would've had a lot of doors closed to her, and it would've been a very different book. There was lots of racism running rampant at this time, compounded by the dire state of employment and finances. The Ku Klux Klan (sort of) popped up in a pretty dramatic showdown at one point. 

Even though I've pointed out some issues that gave me pause and made me think (not a bad thing!), I really did enjoy the book SO much. I just can't get enough of historical novels that pick me up and set me down in another time period, in another life. Those will always be my favorites. Patricia Harman has definitely crafted one of those thoughtful, detailed books that carried me away into the pages. 

Rating:
Snuggle -- Skewer


Pub. Date: August 2012
Publisher: William Morrow
Format: Paperback
ISBN-13: 978-0062198891
Source: A gift from the super-awesome Zibilee!





 

29 comments:

  1. another excellent new HF with a midwife is The Midwife's Tale, by Sam Thomas. I'm on Tour for it, and will post my review on Jan 23. for now, you can read about it here: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/15793166-the-midwife-s-tale

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    1. I'm seeing lots of reviews of The Midwife's Tale popping up and I'm looking forward to yours!

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  2. This sounds great--and I have a midwifery obsession, too! :) Will be putting this one on my TBR list.

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    1. *fist bump*

      Right on to the midwife-obsessed. :) You'll really enjoy this one, I think.

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  3. I think things are still pretty tough in Appalachia. This book sounds excellent!!

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    1. Good point! It was really an engrossing read, Kathy!

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  4. I loved this book too, and am so glad that you liked it! It certainly has a lot of atmosphere and flavor, and it really delves deeply into a lot of issues. I, too, wondered about African American midwives when I was reading this, and I would love it if someone wrote that book. The closest that I have seen is The Healing, which I loved so much. If you can get your hands on a copy of that, I think you will be highly impressed! Fantastic review today, Andi! I think you touched on some really important things that I didn't even discuss.

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    1. It was such a quick, involving read, Zibilee! Thank you for mentioning The Healing. There were some great characters in this book -- especially the older African American midwife (her name slips my mind right this second).

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  5. What about Call the Midwife? I've heard it's terrific (so it's on my wishlist - love the time period and the place).

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    1. I've heard it's good too! Gonna have to check it out, Nancyroo!

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  6. This definitely sounds like it's worth picking up! I'm a bit tired of the black sidekick storyline, too, but I'm going to trust you when you say that the book redeems itself in other ways. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Emily, it's been done! But it definitely redeems itself in some other ways.

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  7. I enjoyed The Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy and Hard Times by Jennifer Worth (which I think was renamed Call the Midwife), so I have a feeling this will be one I'd enjoy, as well. Great review, Andi!

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    1. I'm reading such good things about Call the Midwife, I'm definitely gonna have to check it out, Les!

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  8. This book has been on my wishlist forever it seems. I'm glad to hear that you liked it!

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    1. Do it!!!!! LOL! You would whip through this one, Jennifer.

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  9. I've had a copy of this on my shelf for months. I have GOT to get it read and reviewed!

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  10. Appalachian setting and midwifery are two of my favorite subjects. Thinking this might be my next read! :)

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    1. Yay, Katie! I hope you love it!

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  11. I like the Appalachian setting but don't think I would enjoy a book with not-so-happy deliveries!

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    1. It was hard to read in spots, Joanna. Issues with children and babies get under my skin much more since I have a son of my own.

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  12. Excited to read your review Andy. I'm working on The Healer of Hope River now and plan a trilogy. Bitsy, the side kick will be back in the third book and she will kick A...ss! I love these characters and I'm happy you love them too. There are some very hard deliveries in the book...well one, especially...but we can't sugar coat that 1 in 10 babies in those days died. Most were good births though and something to learn from. Happy reading everyone and I'm excited to hear about the Healer. Sound great. Peace, Patricia Harman, author of The Midwife of Hope River as well as two memoirs.

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  13. Thank you SO much for stopping by, Patricia!!! I'm thrilled that this will turn into a trilogy, and I have no doubt Bitsy will kick some major ass. :)

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  14. I want to read this book...I have had it on my shelf FOREVER. :)

    Thanks for the review.

    Elizabeth
    Silver's Reviews
    My Blog

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    1. Enjoy when you get around to it, Elizabeth!

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  15. I just read a midwife book this weekend and now I may have the addiction for wanting more as well. This one looks awesome!

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  16. This sounds like an intriguing read. I'm loving Call the Midwife series on PBS and also the book that the series was based on.
    Ann

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  17. Don't you just love Call the Midwife? If you missed the first 6 in series One, I think they are streamed on PBS's web-site or maybe BBC. I've heard a second series will be coming this spring. I actually like the series better than the book. The Music and visuals were fantastic.
    Patricia Harman, midwife and author of The Midwife of Hope River.

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