The Midwife of Hope River by Patricia Harman

Midwife Patience Murphy has a gift: a talent for escorting mothers through the challenges of bringing children into the world. Working in the hardscrabble conditions of Appalachia during the Depression, Patience takes the jobs that no one else wants, helping those most in need—and least likely to pay. She knows a successful midwifery practice must be built on a foundation of openness and trust—but the secrets Patience is keeping are far too intimate and fragile for her to ever let anyone in.
Honest, moving, and beautifully detailed, Patricia Harman's The Midwife of Hope River rings with authenticity as Patience faces nearly insurmountable difficulties. From the dangerous mines of West Virginia to the terrifying attentions of the Ku Klux Klan, Patience must strive to bring new light and life into an otherwise hard world.

I'm not sure what I had expected when settling down to read The Midwife of Hope River. Probably something heart-warming like the (amazing) TV series Call The Midwife (seriously, watch it). While the whole midwifing part of the story is heart-warming enough (babies and the miracle of birth always is, and this is written well and realistically [the author Harman is a trained midwife and knows her stuff], the story as a whole never really connected with me.

I felt distanced from the main character Patience who's got quite the back-story. A lot of it sad, some of it messed up and mostly just over the top. Now she's fled it all and have settled down as a midwife by Hope River. The year is 1929 as the book starts and she's struggling like everybody else to make a living while helping the poor, both white and black, giving birth. She's quite literally an incredibly boring person who keeps finding herself in non-boring situations. And yet she remains boring throughout. She doesn't seem to have kind of connection with anybody and the relationships feel very flat because of it. Even during the births she handles it all very objectively. And how on earth she manages the love story I won't spoil, but talk about something being there only for the sake of being there.

Patience is an incredibly lonely character in the way that she is completely wrapped up in herself. Nobody is truly allowed in and she's so immersed with her own back-story that nothing else really matters. Her past keeps interfering with the present; she'll be mid-something (even something dramatic) and suddenly we're flung back into her previous life where's she up to her neck in events to the extent it gets ridiculous. This narrative style also made it hard to connect, I think, because every time things actually got interesting, it was interrupted by a tale from the past.

Overall despite my arguments against it I thought it was a nice enough story but I wish there had been more feeling behind it. I could have easily done without all her back-story, because I did. not. care. and the entire KKK incident seemed superfluous too. I give it 3 stars because it was worth reading, but it's not a book that sticks with you. Too many facts are rattled off matter-of-factly and too little emotion is displayed.

The Midwife of Hope River
by Patricia Harman
ISBN13: 9788763828086
367 pages / published in 2012

Review by Iben Jakobsen, BoB, 2014


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