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Midwives (Oprah's Book Club) Paperback – November 8, 1998

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Editorial Reviews Review

Oprah Book Club® Selection, October 1998: On a violent, stormy winter night, a home birth goes disastrously wrong. The phone lines are down, the roads slick with ice. The midwife, unable to get her patient to a hospital, works frantically to save both mother and child while her inexperienced assistant and the woman's terrified husband look on. The mother dies but the baby is saved thanks to an emergency C-section. And then the nightmare begins: the assistant suggests that maybe the woman wasn't really dead when the midwife operated:
Did she perform at least eight or nine cycles as my mother said, or four or five as Asa recalled? That is the sort of detail that was disputable. But at some point within minutes of what my mother believed had been a stroke, after my mother concluded the cardiopulmonary resuscitation had failed to generate a pulse or a breath, she screamed for Asa and Anne to find her the sharpest knife in the house.
In Midwives, Chris Bohjalian chronicles the events leading up to the trial of Sibyl Danforth, a respected midwife in the small Vermont town of Reddington, on charges of manslaughter. It quickly becomes evident, however, that Sibyl is not the only one on trial--the prosecuting attorney and the state's medical community are all anxious to use this tragedy as ammunition against midwifery in general; this particular midwife, after all, an ex-hippie who still evokes the best of the flower-power generation, is something of an anachronism in 1981. Through it all, Sibyl, her husband, Rand, and their teenage daughter, Connie, attempt to keep their family intact, but the stress of the trial--and Sibyl's growing closeness to her lawyer--puts pressure on both marriage and family. Bohjalian takes readers through the intricacies of childbirth and the law, and by the end of Sibyl Danforth's trial, it's difficult to decide which was more harrowing--the tragic delivery or its legal aftermath.

Narrated by a now adult Connie, Midwives moves back and forth in time, fitting vital pieces of information about what happened that night like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle into its complicated plot. As Connie looks back on her mother's trial, she is still trying to understand what happened--not on the night of the disaster--but in the months and years that followed. --Margaret Prior

From Library Journal

In this new tale from the author of the acclaimed Water Witches (LJ 2/1/95), a New England midwife is accused of murder. Film rights were bought by Columbia-Tristar Pictures.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 374 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1st Vintage Contemporaries Ed edition (November 8, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375706771
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375706776
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (787 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #52,705 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Lincoln, Vermont's Chris Bohjalian is the author of 17 books, including ten New York Times bestsellers. His work has been translated into roughly 30 languages and three times become movies.

The paperback of his most recent novel, Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands, will be published this May.

His books have been chosen as Best Books of the Year by the Washington Post, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Hartford Courant, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews, Bookpage, and Salon.

His awards include the ANCA Freedom Award for his work educating Americans about the Armenian Genocide; the ANCA Arts and Letters Award for The Sandcastle Girls, as well as the Saint Mesrob Mashdots Medal; the New England Society Book Award for The Night Strangers; the New England Book Award; Russia's Soglasie (Concord) Award for The Sandcastle Girls; a Boston Public Library Literary Light; a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award for Trans-Sister Radio; and the Anahid Literary Award. His novel, Midwives, was a number one New York Times bestseller, a selection of Oprah's Book Club, and a New England Booksellers Association Discovery pick. He is a Fellow of the Vermont Academy of Arts and Sciences.

He has written for a wide variety of magazines and newspapers, including the Washington Post, Cosmopolitan, Reader's Digest, and the Boston Globe Sunday Magazine. He has been a weekly columnist in Vermont for the Burlington Free Press since February 1992.

Chris graduated Phi Beta Kappa and Summa Cum Laude from Amherst College, and lives in Vermont with his wife, the photographer Victoria Blewer. Their daughter, Grace Experience, is a young actor in New York City. Among the audiobooks she has narrated is Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

135 of 139 people found the following review helpful By Dianna Setterfield on March 31, 2002
Format: Paperback
Midwives is a wonderfully written and powerfully told story of a family's life in small-town Vermont and the events that changed it forever. Gripping and real, Chris Bohjalian has woven together a murder mystery that will have readers guessing until the very end.
Sybil Danforth, midwife and mother of the story's narrator, 14-year-old Connie, has a thriving practice and normal family life. Then the unthinkable happens: on a cold winter night in the middle of coaching Charlotte Bedford through her lengthy and strenuous labor, tragedy strikes -- Charlotte dies while trying to give birth to her son. With phone lines heaving with ice and roads too treacherous to drive upon, Sybil is forced into a decision -- to save the unborn baby via a homemade Caeserean or let him die along with his mother.
As the events of that evening unfold, readers are privy to shocking information: the Caesarean Sybil is forced to perform may have been done on a living woman. Soon a courtroom battle ensues, pitting the medical community against midwifery, and readers will be left wondering after each page is turned what really happened on that cold, dark night.
Chris Bohjalian is a very talented writer who has obviously spent a lot of research on this novel. Telling this story in a female voice as accurately as he did makes Midwives all the more compelling and authentic. His writing style was very easy to understand even though it jumps back and forth between past and present. A hearty mystery with a riveting conclusion. I will be reading more by this author.
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65 of 69 people found the following review helpful By Dave Kinnear on April 5, 2000
Format: Paperback
This is a book I couldn't put down. It is amazing how Mr. Bohjalian was able to put into writing the feelings of women during childbirth. Certainly it is difficult enough to express those feelings, but to do so as a man shows an incredible amount of compassion and understanding. A lesson to us all, I'm sure. This is a tightly written novel concerning a normally safe home birth gone terribly wrong, and how it affects the lives of all those involved. It twists and turns and leads the reader to wrong assumptions over and over again. At the same time it manages to bring forth the mystery and wonder of life, and especially the moment of birth. The novel is written from the point of view of the Midwife's daughter, who is, at the time of the writing, a doctor, specifically an OB/GYN. Armed with first hand knowledge as well as her mother's copious notes, Constance spins the story of her mother's passion for midwifery, devotion to her trade, and tragic loss of that love after the death of one of her mothers. The trial scenes are wonderfully exciting and maddening at the same time. But more important is the story of love and support in the Danforth family, though not without it's stress and misunderstandings. And Constance tells her own story of growing up and through the tragedy of the public trial, her mother's too close relationship with her lawyer, and her father's struggle to understand and support his wife. All in all, a wonderful book that surprised me a great deal. Thanks to my wife and our book club for getting me to read it.
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33 of 34 people found the following review helpful By tonya lwowski on February 21, 2000
Format: Paperback
this was a great book. I couldn't put it down and the ending was terrific. It was unexpected and kept me gasping the phrash "oh my god" for a good five minutes at least. I loved it and would recommend it to everyone but stay clear of the others books by this author. I was so amazed by Midwives - I ran out and bought WATER WITCHES & LAW OF SIMILARS and they really sucked in comparison to Midwives - and at the end I was like "that's it - that's the end". the author might just be a one hit wonder but his one hit is fantastic.
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46 of 50 people found the following review helpful By scabb on February 21, 2000
Format: Paperback
While reading 'Midwives: A Novel' I was captivated and yet appalled by the graphic portrayal of a midwife caught within a horrific tragedy. As both a 'survivor' of an unexpected c-section performed in a rural area hospital,and consequently, mother of an intelligent and beautiful sixteen-year-old young woman, I remain awed by Mr. Bohjalian talents. The uncanny irony of a man's ability to craft a story from a young girl's perspective with such accuracy was startling. I was washing clothes while reading the novel, inevitably causing lengthy pauses, and found myself reflecting on my own values, beliefs, and morals. At one particularly compelling twist, I stopped the incessant reading to curiously inquire of my husband (a non-reader), after explaining the plot and subplots of the novel, to genuinely give his idea of a moral and ethical response if he were ever confronted with such a dire circumstance. Although emotionally torn between the mind bending realism of Sybil Danforth and her friend, the innocent but fateful Charlotte Buford Bedford, I will always be endeared to the true heroine, Ms. Connie Danforth, for her stoic goodness. A novel that I will pass, effortlessly, to all my reading friends.
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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Linda Linguvic HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on February 9, 2000
Format: Paperback
This book is written in the voice of a young woman, Connie, who was a 14-year old girl in 1981. Through her eyes, we hear the story of her mother, Sibyl Danforth, a lay midwife, who goes on trial when one of her home births goes terribly wrong.
Through Connie's eyes, the reader is taken on a page-turning journey by a well-crafted narrative that moves back and forth in time like a jigsaw puzzle. We feel the emotions of her first kiss as well as her feelings about seeing her loving family endure this event. The writer captures everything -- the nuances of the parents marriage, the deep belief her mother has for her calling to be a midwife, the seasonal changes in the State of Vermont, the controversy between home and hospital birth, and the wonder of the birth process itself.
The story moves swiftly, pulling the reader into the time, place and internal feelings of Connie as well as the people around her. The physical descriptions of the births and the detailed medical information was fascinating and essential to the plot of the story.
The writer is a man, but you'd never know it and I applaud him for this wonderful book which will echo in my mind for a long time. I literally could not put it down and, even though I had peeked at the ending before I started the book, I still felt every bit of the suspense that the writer intended.B
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