Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Midwife of Hope River

The Midwife of Hope River by Patricia Harman
review copy provided by William Morrow/Harper Collins
Description from Goodreads:
 A remarkable new voice in American fiction, creates an uplifting novel that celebrates the miracle of life.

A William Morrow Paperback Original
A debut novel featuring Patience Murphy, an Appalachian midwife in the 1930s struggling against disease, poverty, and prejudices-and her own haunting past-to bring new light, and life, into an otherwise cruel world

As a midwife working in the hardscrabble conditions of Appalachia during the Depression, Patience Murphy's only solace is her gift: the chance to escort mothers through the challenges of childbirth. Just beginning, she takes on the jobs no one else wants: those most in need-and least likely to pay. Patience is willing to do what it takes to fulfill her mentor's wishes, but starting a midwife practice means gaining trust, and Patience's secrets are too fragile to let anyone in.

A stirring piece of Americana, The Midwife of Hope River beats with authenticity as Patience faces seemingly insurmountable conditions: disease, poverty, and prejudices threaten at every turn. From the dangerous mines of West Virginia to the terrifying attentions of the Klu Klux Klan, Patience must strive to bring new light, and life, into an otherwise cruel world.

My Take:

The Midwife of Hope River begins on Black Tuesday, the day the stock market crashed, but Patience, the midwife for the area, has more pressing concerns on her mind. She is delivering a baby on her own. She has recently lost her mentor and friend, Mrs. Kelly, who she worked with as assistant midwife. The book begins with this difficult birth and sets the pattern for the rest of the book: Patience is called to help with a birth and afterwards she records the details in her journal. 

The reader gradually learns about Patience and her life before moving to her little house at the base of Hope Mountain. The story switches between the current storyline in Depression Era West Virginia and the events in the past that lead Patience to this small community. Patience has lived an exciting and sometimes surprising life.

There is so much about this book that I just loved. I loved the history and political climate of the era  the most. The story includes so many of the societal issues of the time: union organizing, mining dangers, race issues, women's health, socialists and anarchists, the KKK, even the origination of the eight hour work day. I loved the breadth of experiences that Patience had and how she learns and grows and changes her opinions about people and communities.

I loved how Patience seems to be a unifying element between the segregated communities of the community and still manages to cause and get into so much trouble as a result.

I also loved that even though Patience was always anxious to learn more about midwifery from the more experienced women, she wasn't afraid to follow her own instincts and do whatever made the new mother comfortable. She is pretty sassy and very smart and not afraid to speak her mind even in such a tumultuous time. 

The Midwife of Hope River is an entertaining, suspenseful, and educational book that I would highly recommend.You don't need to be a midwife or a home birth advocate to enjoy the book. The history alone would make it worthwhile, but the story is wonderful and I really like Patience and wouldn't mind reading more about her life.

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