The Midwife of Hope River by Patricia Harman – Book Review

Patricia Harmon’s The Midwife of Hope River tells the story of Patience Murphy – a woman who finds herself working, reluctantly, as a midwife in 1930’s West Virginia. When we first meet Patience she is living in a lonely farmhouse, willed to her by her friend and mentor Mrs. Kelly, with just her cat and two dogs. Patience is new to midwifery and troubled by her lack of experience and incomplete training. Each birth is a learning experience and Patience carefully notes their details in a journal she keeps of the deliveries. Patience has yet to develop any strong ties in her town, and she misses the loss of her friend deeply.

As we learn more about Patience, it becomes apparent that she is hiding several secrets which contribute to her outsider status and unease in the community. She lives rather precariously on its fringes – even though she has attended to a number of women at their births, she has yet to establish a group of her own friends. That slowly starts to change when circumstances bring her a new roommate, and unexpected work swap with the town veterinarian expands her social outlook and her midwifery skills.

Harmon’s skill is in the ease and descriptiveness of her storytelling. The Midwife of Hope River is rich in the details of the period – the reader gets a full sense of life on a farm, the sweeping change of lifestyle in the depression era, the laws governing midwives and how they often had to circumvent them, the friction between midwives and doctors, and how they learned their craft through a combination of on the job learning and limited schooling. Though The Midwife of Hope River lacks dramatic tension, Patience’s origins and the sometimes harrowing experiences shaping her life and informing her choices, are of interest. Theyare slowly revealed as she makes a life for herself in the sleepy Appalachian town that has become home. Recommended.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Breed by Chase Novak   Book Trailer

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  1. Hi Nicole,

    You wrote a lovely review. I really enjoyed it. Would love to read the book. Of course, it’s not unusual for you to write a wonderful review. I’m glad to come a visiting up here. I like your blog. Hope you’re having a great Monday. It’s raining here.

  2. Harman was at SIBA this year, a guest speaker actually AT BREAKFAST!!! And she did a reading that was particularly sad and bloody!!! Holy cannelloni. So much for that breakfast sandwich! This is not normally my kind of book, but the author really was a fascinating and earnest speaker. I have to admit that I am tempted to put it in the “read soon” stack.

    1. This is one of the few books that I picked up at BEA, and I think I got it because it was in one of the bags, but once I read it a few pages I knew that I wanted to read it. I love her style and writing so much. Glad that I didn’t eat anything when reading!

  3. I remember hearing about this book a month or so ago and thinking it sounded quite good. I think I confused it a bit with the new Call the Midwife show coming to Masterpiece at the end of the month. This sounds good, too, and in a way I like that it lacks dramatic tension. Sometimes, a more meandering sort of book is nice 🙂

    1. That’s very true, Aarti. I like seeing the tidbits of her story unfold and how it shaped her, but it was nice to not be burning through the book out of such intense curiosity. The story was always very satisfying whenever I had the opportunity to pick it up.

  4. I always gravitate to books set in Appalachia; it’s so beautiful and mysterious. Terrific review, Nicole!

  5. I’m glad I came across your site with this wonderful review about The Midwife of Hope River. I’ve been wanting to read it, but haven’t come to it yet. After reading your review, it truly awakened my desire going back to the 1930’s and relive a midwife’s journey. Thanks again!