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Midwives (Oprah's Book Club) Paperback – November 8, 1998
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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
"Superbly crafted and astonishingly powerful. . . . Will thrill readers who cherish their worn copies of To Kill A Mockingbird." --People
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I actually first read this book over a decade ago when Oprah Winfrey chose it for her book club. All I really remembered of it was that it was set in Vermont, a midwife is on trial because a mother died, it is told from the daughter's point of view, and that it was a solid book that pretty much left me after I had turned the last page. Obviously, I was going to need to re-read it for my book club.
Because so much has happened in my life since I first read this book (moved to the east coast, moved back to the west coast, went through 3 jobs, got married, had 2 kids), I think my experiences enhanced what I read in this book. Unlike my first reading, this time the book stayed with me after I finished it--and it is still with me.
There is no argument that Bohjalian is a skilled writer--his prose is deep, but still readable. I enjoyed how he structured the book, with the main narration coming from Sibyl's daughter, but each chapter being prefaced with Sibyl's own words. The last half of the book mostly takes place in the courtroom and, as a reader, I felt as if I was a member of the jury.
I did not especially like Sibyl, but I understood her. I understood what drove her to midwifery and what led her to the fateful decision that landed her in a manslaughter trial. Sibyl's daughter, Connie, is exactly what I would picture a girl of her age who finds herself in her position would be. I do wish, however, that Sibyl's husband, Rand, was fleshed out a bit more.
I will say that I have questions about this book. Are non-certified midwives really as self-trained as Sibyl was? Does the medical community really have it out for midwives? Did Sibyl really do the best that she could? I'm looking forward to my book club discussion on this book because there will be at least one doctor with us.
All in all, this was a great book for me to re-read and I think it will be an excellent selection for our book club.