Kara Spencer, November 14, 2006 (view all comments by Kara Spencer)
The Birth House by Ami McKay is a spellbinding novel of a young girl who becomes a traditional midwife in rural Nova Scotia in the early 1900's. Through the story Dora Rare grows in maturity, experience, and commitment to support women with their fertility, pregnancies, and homebirths.
Meanwhile, the community struggles with the loss of their young men to the war. Dora also has a cultural battle on the women's health front, as a new obstetrician moves to the area campaigning to eliminate midwives and deliver all babies with anesthesia and forceps. Her teacher, herself, and the other loyal homebirthing women must defend their right to birth where and with whom they want to.
In addition to homebirth midwifery, women's issues are woven throughout the story illuminating the struggles of that era, including women's suffrage, arranged marriages, the diagnosis of hysteria (for any women who didn't behave in a way considered proper), and the origin of vibrators to treat hysteria. The novel is written as a "literary scrapbook" interspersing the story with journal entries by Dora Rare, and old advertisements and newspaper articles about the war, women's health, and social events.
Was this comment helpful? | Yes | No (10 of 19 readers found this comment helpful)
amberbrook, October 21, 2006 (view all comments by amberbrook)
I got through this book in only a few days. Very creatively mixed with letters and newspaper articles portraying the time period. A great story of women who didn't really know they were pioneers of modern feminism.
Was this comment helpful? | Yes | No (9 of 18 readers found this comment helpful)
William Morrow & Company -
"Publishers Weekly Review"
by Publishers Weekly,
"Canadian radiojournalist McKay was unable to ferret out the life story of late midwife Rebecca Steele, who operated a Nova Scotia birthing center out of McKay's Bay of Fundy house in the early 20th century; the result of her unsatisfied curiousity is this debut novel. McKay writes in the voice of shipbuilder's daughter, Dora Rare, 'the only daughter in five generations of Rares,' who as a girl befriends the elderly and estranged Marie Babineau, long the local midwife (or traiteur), who claims to have marked Dora out from birth as her successor. After initial reluctance and increasingly intensive training, 17-year-old Dora moves in with Marie; on the eve of Dora's marriage to Archer Bigelow, Marie disappears, leaving Dora her practice. A difficult marriage, many difficult births, a patient's baby thrust on her to raise without warning and other crises (including WWI and the introduction of 'clinical' birthing methods) ensue. Period advertisments, journal entries and letters to and from various characters give Dora's voice context. The book is more about the texture of Dora's life than plot, and McKay handles the proceedings with winning, unsentimental care. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"This sensitively written novel of women's birthing rituals, strengths, and friendships will appeal to readers who enjoy gentle humor and plenty of homespun wisdom."
by Library Jounral,
"The plotting leaves a lot to be desired, but McKay is such a wonderful storyteller with a strong sense of place and time that all is forgiven."
by Kirkus Reviews,
"This unclassifiable debut was a bestseller in Canada, helped no doubt by its challenging vision of old-fashioned midwives as feminist pioneers."
Filled with details as compelling as they are surprising, this is an unforgettable novel of the struggles women have faced to have control of their own bodies and to keep the best parts of tradition alive in the world of modern medicine.
Powell's City of Books is an independent bookstore in Portland, Oregon, that fills a whole city block with more than a million new, used, and out of print books. Shop those shelves — plus literally millions more books, DVDs, and gifts — here at Powells.com.