The Midwife of Hope River by Patricia Harman has been out for ages and I’ve even owned the audiobook for a lot of that time but despite wanting to read it I never found the time to. Well when the chance to review the sequel for a book tour came up I knew it was time because you can’t read the sequel without having read the first book and I’m so glad I did. Besides that I have a fascination with all things to do with midwifery especially pertaining to long ago times such as the 1930’s when this book takes place. The Midwife of Hope River is about so much more than just birthing babies – it’s about struggling in hard times, friendship, heartbreak, and above all hope in new life, whether it be a birth or a rediscovery of one’s self.
Taking place in the 1930’s we meet Patience Murphy who is an Appalachian midwife. Patience came to Hope River to escape her own haunting past. Patience, being new to the community, doesn’t turn anyone in need away. She births babies for everyone – the rich, the poor, the black, the white. Along the way she makes some good friends like Bitsy who ends up being her assistant. I loved Bitsy who was a strong, intelligent black woman with a wit that often had me smiling. As they attend births and experience both joy and sadness Patience finds herself reflecting on her own past and all that has happened to bring her to where she is now. As the two women become closer Patience is given a first hand look at what it is like to be a black woman in the 1930’s. People look down on Patience for having Bitsy living with her and assisting her but Patience doesn’t budge. She isn’t going to have anyone tell her who she can be friends with or work with for that matter. As tensions rise though Patience wonders if she will be able to keep the both of them safe.
I loved this story and what I thought most impressive was the reality portrayed in the pages of this book and then I found out that Patricia Harman is herself a certified midwife and it all made sense. When you read a book like this you thank your lucky stars that you live in the times of modern medicine. As Harman describes the births and how harrowing they could be with babies or mothers dying you can understand how hard it was for women back then. Some women could afford to go to a hospital but a great majority and especially the ones that Patience administered to could not. More than that most couldn’t pay for the services either. They paid in food or whatever they could and Patience accepted that as well because more often than not she needed what they were offering as payment. I loved the author’s writing as well. She so vividly describes the sights, sounds, and smells of the births that I felt I was in those homes with those country folk just praying all would go well. What I feel most thankful for is that nowadays with modern medicine many more women and children make it even through the most harrowing of circumstances.
For fans of historical fiction and novels on midwifery I think The Midwife of Hope River is one of the best I’ve read. I listened to the audiobook which was narrated by Anne Wittman and oh my she does a good job from the birthing scenes to the highly emotional tone of this novel at times. She truly does bring this novel alive for the listener. Highly recommended.