Title: The Midwife of Hope River: A Novel of an American Midwife
Author: Patricia Harman
No. of Pages: 400
Genre: Historical Fiction
”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.”
Thoughts: With her background as a midwife, Patricia Harman uses The Midwife of Hope River to highlight this worthy practice back when it was a necessity rather than a luxury. This is more than a story about women giving birth however. This is a story about survival at its most elemental, when jobs and money were almost nonexistent and when the ensuing desperation made even the most placid of individuals willing to contemplate just about anything to keep their family alive.
Patience Murphy is endearing with her lack of confidence and social cluelessness, although she does begin to grate on the nerves after a while. Her continued self-doubt seems more forced as she gains in experience and comfort as a midwife. There is also a fairly gaping hole left by her unexplored past. While her traumatic childhood is mentioned, as it provides a rather brief explanation for her current behaviors and attitudes, there is a lack of exploration of this content that would go far towards fleshing out Patience’s character even more thoroughly, something that is needed to prevent a reader from becoming too annoyed with her constant insecurity.
The strength of The Midwife of Hope River is in its historical accuracy and the careful rendering of even the most minute of details. Through Patience’s experiences, a modern reader gets a thoroughly detailed understanding of the poverty-stricken life of most of America during the Depression. Today’s generations cannot begin to fathom just how difficult it was to find enough money to feed a family or the work involved to do so when the money was gone. However, Ms. Harman does an excellent job helping modern generations understand the painstaking, frustrating, and back-breaking work that prevented families from starving. Her research is extremely thorough, but it is her capturing of the fierce pride and determination of Patience’s patients and of herself that really touches a reader.
The Midwife of Hope River brings beauty to a painful and physically traumatic event. Ms. Harman does an excellent job capturing the roller coaster of emotions that occur within all witnesses and participants of a birth. In addition to the very human element of giving birth, Ms. Harman spotlights the growing desperation that occurred during the Depression, the continuing battle between unions and company bosses, and the steps people took to stave off starvation. The Midwife of Hope River excellently covers the gamut of human emotion and beautifully presents one of the most challenging periods in American history.
Acknowledgments: Thank you to Mary Sasso from William Morrow for my review copy!