The reading group I belong to chose, The Birth House by Ami McKay, as our book choice for October.
The Birth House is the story of Dora Rare, the first daughter to be born in five generations of Rares. 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. Dora becomes Miss B.’s apprentice, and together they help the women of Scots Bay through infertility, difficult labours, breech births, unwanted pregnancies and even unfulfilling sex lives. Filled with details as compelling as they are surprising, The Birth House is an unforgettable tale 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.
“As the men bargained with the elements, the women tended to matters at home. They bartered with each other to fill their pantries and clothe their children. Grandmothers, aunts and sisters taught one another to stitch and cook and spin. On Sunday mornings mothers bent their knees between the stalwart pews at the Union Church, praying they would have enough. With hymnals clutched against their breasts, they told the Lord they would be ever faithful if their husbands were spared.”
This was actually one of my submissions for this years books. I chose it because I had heard positive reviews and also because it was set in my neighbouring province of Nova Scotia. Additionally, I have always had a fascination with this era, the book is set in the late 1800’s to early 1900’s. I have often joked with my husband that I would loved to have been a pioneer, with the exception of the outhouses. I felt I could maybe handle the rest of the challenges, but no indoor bathroom…that was too much to overcome!
I quite liked this book. It was interesting to read about the harsh realities of life, especially the life of women, living in a remote area of Nova Scotia at the turn of the last century. The nurse in me loved reading about Dora’s midwifery apprenticeship and the folk wisdom and herbal knowledge that have been passed down to her, versus the advent of modern obstetrics and gynaecology.
The book had a bit of an unusual, but very interesting format that included advertisements, letters, newspaper articles and diary entries. I also enjoyed the depth McKay gave to the supporting characters and how she brought them to life and made me want to be one of the “Occasional Knitters”.
On the negative side, I found a few of the tales lacking in believablity. Could you actually just “bury” bodies with absolutely no accountability? Maybe that is how life was if you lived in a small community in the early 1900’s, but I found it to be somewhat far fetched.
Pregnant? You may want to check out this recipe for GROANING CAKE which was featured in the book!
I give this book 4 stars out of 5.
Have you read The Birth House? If so, what did you think of it? If not, do you think you may?
Do you think you may try to make a Groaning Cake?