Synopses & Reviews
The Birth House
is the story of Dora Rare, the first daughter to be born in five generations of the Rare family. As a child in an isolated village in Nova Scotia, she is drawn to Miss Babineau, an outspoken Acadian midwife with a gift for healing and a kitchen filled with herbs and folk remedies. During the turbulent first years of World War I, Dora becomes the midwife's apprentice. Together, they help the women of Scots Bay through infertility, difficult labors, breech births, unwanted pregnancies and even unfulfilling sex lives.
But when Gilbert Thomas, a brash medical doctor, comes to Scots Bay with promises of fast, painless childbirth, some of the women begin to question Miss Babineau's methods and after Miss Babineau's death, Dora is left to carry on alone. In the face of fierce opposition, she must summon all of her strength to protect the birthing traditions and wisdom that have been passed down to her.
Filled with details that are as compelling as they are surprising childbirth in the aftermath of the Halifax Explosion, the prescribing of vibratory treatments to cure hysteria and a mysterious elixir called Beaver Brew Ami McKay has created an arresting and unforgettable portrait of the struggles that women faced to have control of their own bodies and to keep the best parts of tradition alive in the world of modern medicine.
"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." Booklist
"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." Library Jounral
"This unclassifiable debut was a bestseller in Canada, helped no doubt by its challenging vision of old-fashioned midwives as feminist pioneers." Kirkus Reviews
In this breathtaking debut novel, Ami McKay has created an unforgettable portrait of the struggles that women have faced to control their own bodies and to keep the best parts of tradition alive in the world of modern medicine.
The Birth House is the story of Dora Rare--the first daughter in five generations of Rares. As apprentice to the outspoken Acadian midwife Miss Babineau, Dora learns to assist the women of an isolated Nova Scotian village through infertility, difficult labors, breech births, unwanted pregnancies, and even unfulfilling sex lives. During the turbulent World War I era, uncertainty and upheaval accompany the arrival of a brash new medical doctor and his promises of progress and fast, painless childbirth. Dora soon finds herself fighting to protect the rights of women as well as the wisdom that has been put into her care.
A tale of tradition and science, matriarchy and paternalism, past and future, The Birth House is "a dazzling first novel." (Library Journal), and a story more timely than ever.
About the Author
Ami McKay's work has aired on CBC radio's Maritime Magazine, This Morning, OutFrontand The Sunday Edition. Her documentary, Daughter of Family G, won an Excellence in Journalism Medallion at the 2003 Atlantic Journalism Awards. When she and her family moved to Scots Bay, Nova Scotia, she learned that their new home was once a birth house.