Book Review: The Midwife of Hope River: A Novel of an American Midwife
By Patricia Harman
Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks; Original edition (August 28, 2012)
Reviewed by Molly Remer, Talk Birth
Already a fan of CNM Patsy Harman’s lyrical writing style and understated prose, I was eager to read her first foray into historical fiction. The Midwife of Hope River: A Novel of an American Midwife did not disappoint. This novel contains a little bit of everything: some mystery, some romance, some intrigue, some drama, some sociopolitical commentary and ecological activism, and also, birth. Lots of birth–some animal births and many human births. Some of the births are powerful, some are scary, some are sad, and all are realistic and touching.
The Midwife of Hope River is set in a small mining town in West Virginia during the Great Depression and follows the story of Patience Murphy, a midwife with some secrets, as she attends births in desperately poverty-stricken conditions. The story also explores the race relations of the time, with Patience developing a close and mutually supportive relationship with a young black woman who becomes her apprentice—a friendship that raises the hackles of the emerging KKK members in the region.
Harman’s writing reminds me of that of Catherine Cookson or Anne Tyler in the simple elegance with which she writes about normal people experiencing normal lives. Low key and plainspoken without unnecessary drama or angst, the result is a realistic story that speaks to the heart and to the common human experience.
I kept expecting something bad to happen in this book, and while there were definitely some bad events in the story, there was a wonderfully empowering scene towards the end, rather than the victimization or attack I was fearing. I simply can’t think of any type of historical fiction that could be better than a novel about a midwife!
**Also, make sure to check out the companion book giveaway as part of the virtual book tour of Harman’s novel.**