Sunday, 12 June 2016

The Birth House - Ami McKay

Not to be mistaken under any circumstances with The Birthing House by Christopher Ransom (Please!), I can recommend this one wholeheartedly.  This is a book of the kind I love - a lot of facts woven in with the fiction.  Good research of the real stuff always makes a better read, I find.

Miss B. is an elderly woman, a descendent of an Acadian - that is, one of the French settlers that lived in the northern part of Nova Scotia until the British removed them, put them on ships and sent them down the Atlantic coast of America. They resettled in Louisiana, and from Acadia, we get Cajun, the music and the food.  Miss B's forebears came back to Nova Scotia and settled on the Bay of Fundy coast.  She's a midwife - of the old fashioned kind.  She has lots of old fashioned remedies, she brings babies into the world, she nurses sick people and brings them back to health if she can.  And she is close friends with Dora, who at the beginning of the book is a young child, and by the end is a midwife herself, a widow at 19, and with an adopted child. Miss B. has taught Dora everything she knows, but Dora is not sure she wants this kind of responsibility.  Like witches of folklore, everyone loves a midwife until something goes wrong, and then she's spurned.

The majority of this story has for it's background WW1.  No-one Dora cares for is lost, and there is little about the war itself although there are some nice details here, including the Newfoundland socks that men on the front would barter for, as they were warmer than any other.  During the course of Dora's story, the Halifax Explosion occurs.  This was a huge and dreadful even in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in 1917 when 2,000 were killed, 9,000 injured, and 6,000 left homeless.  The Spanish Flu is also touched upon whilst Dora is living in Boston, Mass.

Descriptions of births are explicit, but why should they not be?  This is a story of rural midwifery, and the fight to make medical practitioners understand that sometimes women did know best..  From time to time an advert from a newspaper of the time is included in the book's pages, and also reports from the newspaper of deaths, perhaps murders, and of course, all the news that's fit to print.  A curl up and read to the end without stopping kind of book, but anyway you choose to read it, it's a good one.