Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Book Review ~ The Midwife of Hope River by Patricia Harman

Patience Murphy is a midwife helping women through the births of their children in Depression era Appalachian mountains.  Her clients are the poorest of the poor and cannot always pay Patience.  But her heart cannot turn anyone away and she attends all who call on her.  When Bitsy, a young black girl with no where to go,  comes to live with her in her small cabin up on the mountainside, Patience, in spite of her hesitance, doesn't realize what a good friend Bitsy will become.  She starts to take Bitsy along on her deliveries and is soon training her to be her assistant.  But when tensions start to rise in the town due to mines closing down and men out work, both women start to feel the backlash against their friendship.  And in the midst of it all, Patience is trying to hold it together while she hides deep regrets and a deep buried secret from her past.

I have to say I have never read a novel quite like this.  The setting is at the beginning of the Depression and the tensions and difficulties both to the poor mine workers and the well to do mine owners, the rural residents and the city dwellers is told in such a way as you really get an idea of what it was like, yet the author is able to do so without getting too wordy.  The whole character of Patience was so interesting to me as I had never really thought about what it was like for women of that era to have babies, with hospitals only available to those who could afford them and for those who could bring themselves to trust the hospitals methods of the time. We take hospitals for such granted nowadays.   As Patience attends her deliveries, she keeps a written account of all the births.  The author takes you through all the births with vivid descriptions without sounding like a medical textbook.  I'll have to admit, there might be some who would not enjoy all the descriptions, but I found it a fascinatting.  The work, the pain, the joy and sometimes the heartache of bringing life into the world was told so richly.  The author herself was a professional midwife so her writing rings very true and is able to capture all the emotions and thoughts of the participants so well.  I love the developing story of Patience and Bitsy's unexpected friendship in a time when it was taboo and how Patience showed courage in the midst of very tense and scary situations within the story.

This was a great read with many aspects to the story.  But the beauty of bringing life into the world and service to others was at the forefront making a very emotional story.  I rate it 9/10


Faith said...

Well now this is going on my reading list!! I love historical fiction!!!!!!

Carrie said...

I thought this book was pretty good as well. It was definitely not my normal type of book (even though I do like historical fiction) but I normally don't gravitate towards Depression-era books.

Anyway, it was a very emotional read, as you say, and worth the time, I think.