Midwives

( 163 )

Overview

"Superbly crafted and astonishingly powerful. . . . It will thrill readers who cherish their worn copies of To Kill A Mockingbird." --People

With a suspense, lyricism, and moral complexity that recall To Kill a Mockingbird and Presumed Innocent, this compulsively readable novel explores what happens when a woman who has devoted herself to ushering life into the world finds herself charged with responsibility in a patient's tragic death.

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Overview

"Superbly crafted and astonishingly powerful. . . . It will thrill readers who cherish their worn copies of To Kill A Mockingbird." --People

With a suspense, lyricism, and moral complexity that recall To Kill a Mockingbird and Presumed Innocent, this compulsively readable novel explores what happens when a woman who has devoted herself to ushering life into the world finds herself charged with responsibility in a patient's tragic death.

The time is 1981, and Sibyl Danforth has been a dedicated midwife in the rural community of Reddington, Vermont, for fifteen years. But one treacherous winter night, in a house isolated by icy roads and failed telephone lines, Sibyl takes desperate measures to save a baby's life. She performs an emergency Caesarean section on its mother, who appears to have died in labor. But what if--as Sibyl's assistant later charges--the patient wasn't already dead, and it was Sibyl who inadvertently killed her?

As recounted by Sibyl's precocious fourteen-year-old daughter, Connie, the ensuing trial bears the earmarks of a witch hunt except for the fact that all its participants are acting from the highest motives--and the defendant increasingly appears to be guilty. As Sibyl Danforth faces the antagonism of the law, the hostility of traditional doctors, and the accusations of her own conscience, Midwives engages, moves, and transfixes us as only the very best novels ever do.

This compulsively readable novel explores what happens when a woman who has devoted herself to ushering life into the world finds herself charged with responsibility in a patient's death.

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Editorial Reviews

Washington Post Book World
An 'astonishing' suspense bestseller about a woman on trial for murder that will keep readers up late at night until the last page is turned.
Washington Post Book World
An 'astonishing' suspense bestseller about a woman on trial for murder that 'will keep readers up late at night until the last page is turned.
Washington Post Book World
An 'astonishing' suspense bestseller about a woman on trial for murder that 'will keep readers up late at night until the last page is turned.
Washington Washington Post Book World
An 'astonishing' suspense bestseller about a woman on trial for murder that 'will keep readers up late at night until the last page is turned.
People
Superbly crafted...powerful. It will thrill readers who cherish their worn copies of To Kill a Mockingbird.
Boston Globe
The courtroom settings provide...ample suspense....A writer of unusual heart.
People Magazine
Superbly crafted...powerful. It will thrill readers who cherish their worn copies of To Kill a Mockingbird.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Among the many achievements of this gripping, insightful novel is the remarkable fullness with which Bohjalian (Water Witches) writes about both the physicality and the spirituality of childbirth.

OB/GYN physician Connie Danforth looks back on the events of a wrenching summer when she was 14 and her mother, Sibyl, a Vermont midwife and ex-hippie with a "distaste for most traditional and institutional authority," was on trial for murder. Sybil has successfully home-delivered more than 500 babies, but one freezing March night, the phone line down and the roads impassable, the laboring woman she is attending suddenly suffers what appears to be a fatal stroke. Sibyl saves the child with an emergency C-section only to find herself arrested after her assistant tells police that the operation was performed on a still-living woman. Is there, in fact, blood on Sibyl's hands? Or is she just a target of the hostile New England medical community, whose persecution of midwives dates back to the 17th-century expulsion of Anne Hutchinson from the Massachusetts Bay? As Connie wrestles with increasing doubts about whether or not her mother acted correctly, the Danforth family struggles to remain intact in the face of community ostracism and unrelenting media scrutiny.

Readers will find themselves mesmerized by the irresistible momentum of the narrative and by Bohjalian's graceful and lucid, irony-laced prose. His warm, vivid evocations of child-bearing capture the wonder and terror of bringing a baby into the world. With acutely sensitive character delineation, he manages to present all the participants in this drama, from the family members to the grieving widower, as complex, fully realized individuals. This is a story with no obvious villains or heroes, which only renders the tragedy all the more haunting.

Library Journal
In this new tale from the author of the acclaimed Water Witches, a New England midwife is accused of murder.
Library Journal
When a bomb decimates a Havana nightclub on New Year's Eve, 1957, King Bongo looks for the culprits-and his showgirl sister. With a seven-city author tour. Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
Mademoiselle
A thoughtful combination of ethical angst and courtroom drama.
Chris Bohjalian
[His books are about] everyday people dealing with the complex moral ambiguities that fill this world....What is most important to me is that my narrator's voice is believable and that, though it is clearly an absolute fiction, it has the emotional resonance of memoir. -- Interviewed in Publishers Weekly, January 4, 1999
Washington Post Book World
An 'astonishing' suspense bestseller about a woman on trial for murder that will keep readers up late at night until the last page is turned.
Washington Wash. Post Book World
An 'astonishing' suspense bestseller about a woman on trial for murder that 'will keep readers up late at night until the last page is turned.
Kirkus Reviews
Bohjalian (Water Witches, 1995, etc.) blends some provocative moral, medical, and political issues into a classic coming-of-age story in this To Kill a Mockingbird like reminiscence of the murder trial of a midwife, as witnessed by her teenaged daughter.

From the day back in the '60s when Sibyl Danforth stepped forward in an emergency to help a pregnant friend give birth, she fell in love with the birthing process and dedicated herself to a calling as a lay midwife in rural Vermont. But as her obstetrician daughter, Connie, points out, Sibyl never bothered to obtain certification from the American College of Nurse-Midwives. Still, neighbors who wanted to have their babies at home felt comfortable calling on her. Among Sibyl's patients in 1981, the year Connie turned 14, was a minister's wife named Charlotte Bedford, a fragile woman whose incredibly difficult labor led to a stroke and what appeared to be Charlotte's death. Prevented by a heavy snowstorm from getting Charlotte to a hospital, Sibyl frantically tried to save the baby's life by performing an emergency cesarean on the presumably dead woman. Only after Charlotte is carted away does the question arise: Was the woman actually dead when Sibyl cut her open? In a strong, ruminative voice, Connie re-creates that terrible year when the state's attorney, Charlotte Bedford's family, the local medical community, and even members of the Danforths' small hometown seemed to conspire to put not just Sibyl but the entire practice of home birthing on trial. Connie, fearing witch-huntstyle reprisals, eventually broke the law to protect her beloved mother's freedom. But the question remains: Did Sibyl kill Charlotte for the sake of her baby?

Rich in moral ambiguity, informative to a fault on the methods and politics of childbirth, and perceptive regarding the whipsawing desires and loyalties of a perfectly normal teenaged girl: a compelling, complex novel and the strongest yet from the talented Bohjalian.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375706776
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 11/28/1998
  • Series: Oprah's Book Club Series
  • Pages: 372
  • Sales rank: 103,557
  • Product dimensions: 7.98 (w) x 5.12 (h) x 0.84 (d)

Meet the Author

Chris Bohjalian
Chris Bohjalian is the author of eight novels, including Midwives, (a # 1 New York Times bestseller and an Oprah’s Book Club® selection), Trans-Sister Radio, and The Buffalo Soldier—as well as Idyll Banter, a collection of magazine essays and newspaper columns.

His work has been translated into seventeen languages, been published in twenty countries, and twice become acclaimed movies, (“Midwives” and “Past the Bleachers”).  In 2002 and he won the New England Book Award.

Biography

It was March 1986 when Chris Bohjalian made a decision that would have an incalculable impact on his writing. He and his wife had just hailed a taxi home to Brooklyn after a party in Manhattan's East Village when they suddenly found themselves on a wild and terrifying 45-minute ride. The crazed cabbie, speeding through red lights and ignoring stop signs, ultimately dropped the shaken couple off... in front of a crack house being stormed by the police. It was then that Bohjalian and his wife decided that the time had come to flee the city for pastoral Vermont. This incident and the couple's subsequent move to New England not only inspired a series of columns titled "Idyll Banter" (later compiled into a book of the same name), but a string of books that would cause Bohjalian to be hailed as one of the most humane, original, and beloved writers of his time.

While Bohjalian's Manhattan murder mystery A Killing in the Real World was a somewhat quiet debut, follow-up novels (many of which are set in his adopted state) have established him as a writer to watch. A stickler for research, he fills his plotlines with rich, historically accurate details. But he never loses sight of what really draws readers into a story: multi-dimensional characters they can relate to.

The selection of his 1997 novel Midwives for Oprah's Book Club established Bohjalian as a force to be reckoned with, igniting a string of critically acclaimed crowd pleasers. His literary thriller The Double Bind was a Barnes & Noble Recommends pick in 2007.

Good To Know

Bohjalian's fascination with the works of F. Scott Fitzgerald extends beyond the author's prominent influence on The Double Bind. In an interview with Loaded Shelf.com, Bohjalian estimated that he owns "at least 42 different editions of books by or about F. Scott Fitzgerald."

. Two of Chris Bojalian's novels have been adapted into critically acclaimed TV movies. An adaptation of Past the Bleachers with Richard Dean Anderson was made in 1995, and a version of Midwives starring Sissy Spacek and Peter Coyote debuted in 2001.

In our interview with Bohjalian, he shared some fascinating and fun facts about himself:

"I was the heaviest child, by far, in my second-grade class. My mother had to buy my pants for me at a store called the "Husky Boys Shop," and still she had to hem the cuffs up around my knees. I hope this experience, traumatizing as it was, made me at least marginally more sensitive to people around me."

"I have a friend with Down syndrome, a teenage boy who is capable of remembering the librettos from entire musicals the first or second time he hears them. The two of us belt them out together whenever we're driving anywhere in a car.

"I am a pretty avid bicyclist. The other day I was biking alone on a thin path in the woods near Franconia Notch, New Hampshire, and suddenly before me I saw three bears. At first I saw only two, and initially I thought they were cats. Then I thought they were dogs. Finally, just as I was approaching them and they started to scurry off the path and into the thick brush, I understood they were bears. Bear cubs, to be precise. Which is exactly when their mother, no more than five or six feet to my left, reared up on her hind legs, her very furry paws and very sharp claws raised above her head in a gesture that an optimist might consider a wave and guy on a bike might consider something a tad more threatening. Because she was standing on a slight incline, I was eye level with her stomach -- an eventual destination that seemed frighteningly plausible. I have never biked so fast in my life in the woods. I may never have biked so fast in my life on a paved road."

"I do have hobbies -- I garden and bike, for example -- but there's nothing in the world that gives me even a fraction of the pleasure that I derive from hanging around with my wife and daughter."

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    1. Hometown:
      Lincoln, Vermont
    1. Date of Birth:
      August 12, 1961
    2. Place of Birth:
      White Plains, New York
    1. Education:
      Amherst College
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

Throughout the long summer before my mother's trial began, and then during those crisp days in the fall when her life was paraded publicly before the county--her character lynched, her wisdom impugned--I overheard much more than my parents realized, and I understood more than they would have liked.

Through the register in the floor of my bedroom I could listen to the discussions my parents would have with my mother's attorney in the den late at night, after the adults had assumed I'd been sleeping for hours. If the three of them happened to be in the suite off the kitchen my mother used as her office and examining room, perhaps searching for an old document in her records or a patient's prenatal history, I would lie on the bathroom floor above them and listen as their words traveled up to me through the holes that had been cut for the water pipes to the sink. And while I never went so far as to lift the receiver of an upstairs telephone when I heard my mother speaking on the kitchen extension, often I stepped silently down the stairs until I could hear every word that she said. I must have listened to dozens of phone conversations this way--standing completely still on the bottom step, invisible from the kitchen because the phone cord stretched barely six feet--and by the time the trial began, I believe I could have reconstructed almost exactly what the lawyer, friend, or midwife was saying at the other end of the line.

I was always an avid parent watcher, but in those months surrounding the trial I became especially fanatic. I monitored their fights, and noted how the arguments grew nasty fast under pressure; I listened to them apologize, one of them often sobbing, and then I'd wait for the more muffled (but still decipherable) sounds they would make when they would climb into bed and make love. I caught the gist of their debates with doctors and lawyers, I understood why some witnesses would be more damning than others, I learned to hate people I'd never met and whose faces I'd never seen. The state's medical examiner. The state's attorney. An apparently expert midwife from Washington, D.C.

The morning the judge gave the jury its instructions and sent them away to decide my mother's fate, I overheard her attorney explain to my parents what he said was one of the great myths in litigation: You can tell what a jury has decided the moment they reenter the courtroom after their deliberations, by the way they look at the defendant. Or refuse to look at him. But don't believe it, he told them. It's just a myth.

I was fourteen years old that fall, however, and it sounded like more than a myth to me. It had that ring of truth to it that I heard in many wives'--and midwives'--tales, a core of common sense hardened firm by centuries of observation. Babies come when the moon is full. If the boiled potatoes burn, it'll rain before dark. A bushy caterpillar's a sign of a cold winter. Don't ever sugar till the river runs free.

My mother's attorney may not have believed the myth that he shared with my parents, but I sure did. It made sense to me. I had heard much over the past six months. I'd learned well which myths to take to my heart and which ones to discard.

And so when the jury filed into the courtroom, an apostolic procession of twelve, I studied their eyes. I watched to see whether they would look at my mother or whether they would look away. Sitting beside my father in the first row, sitting directly behind my mother and her attorney as I had every day for two weeks, I began to pray to myself, Please don't look at your shoes, please don't look at the judge. Don't look down or up or out the window. Please, please, look at me, look at my mother. Look at us, look here, look here, look here.

I'd watched the jurors for days, I'd seen them watch me. I'd counted beards, I'd noted wrinkles, I'd stared beyond reason and courtesy at the way the fellow who would become the foreman had sat with his arms folded across his chest, hiding the hand disfigured years earlier by a chain saw. He had a thumb but no fingers.

They walked in from the room adjacent to their twelve chairs and found their seats. Some of the women crossed their legs at their knees, one of the men rubbed his eyes and rocked his chair back for a brief second on its rear legs. Some scanned the far wall of the courtroom, some looked toward the exit sign above the front door as if they realized their ordeal was almost over and emancipation was at hand.

One, the elderly woman with white hair and a closet full of absolutely beautiful red flowered dresses, the woman who I was sure was a Lipponcott from Craftsbury, looked toward the table behind which the state's attorney and his deputy were sitting.

And that's when I broke down. I tried not to, but I could feel my eyes fill with tears, I could feel my shoulders beginning to quiver. I blinked, but a fourteen-year-old girl's eyelids are no match for the lament I had welling inside me. My cries were quiet at first, the sound of a mournful whisper, but they gathered fury fast. I have been told that I howled.

And while I am not proud of whatever hysteria I succumbed to that day in the courtroom, I am not ashamed of it either. If anyone should feel shame for whatever occurred that moment in a small courthouse in northeastern Vermont, in my mind it is the jury: Amidst my sobs and wails, people have said that I pleaded aloud, "Look at us! Oh, God, please, please look at us!" and still not one of the jurors would even glance in my mother's or my direction.

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Table of Contents

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Introduction

On a cold and icy winter night in rural Vermont, an experienced midwife named Sibyl Danforth struggles with a difficult birth. Forced to remain indoors because of the poor weather conditions, Sibyl can't call the hospital because the phones are down, and can't drive her struggling patient to the nearest hospital because the roads are slick with ice. After hours of unproductive labor, the pregnant woman appears to die from a stroke, and Sibyl has no choice but to perform an emergency cesarean, with a kitchen knife, to deliver the baby -- a healthy boy.

Following this miraculous birth, a terrible question arises: What if the woman was still alive when Sibyl cut her open? There were two witnesses to the scene of birth and death. One was the pregnant woman's husband, the other, Sibyl Danforth's inexperienced apprentice. Shortly after the death, both witnesses claim that the midwife, not the birthing, took Charlotte's life. They believe that she was still alive when Sibyl made the decision to operate. Sibyl is subsequently accused of operating on a living woman and killing her own patient through hemorrhagic shock.

Seen through the keen and youthful eyes of Sibyl Danforth's 14-year-old daughter, Connie, Sibyl's fight to defend her choices that cold winter evening forces readers to question definitions of justice and legal culpability. Midwives is both a literary novel and a suspenseful courtroom drama that mesmerizes readers from beginning to end. Please join us as we welcome Chris Bohjalian, author of Midwives.

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Interviews & Essays

Q: How do you react when you hear your book being compared to Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird?

A: It's tremendously flattering, since To Kill a Mockingbird is a magnificent novel: It is deeply moving and beautifully written, and it offers one of the more wistful and lovely voices in modern literature. Moreover, I have cherished the book for almost a quarter century now: I read it first when I was 13, and I had just moved from New York to Miami. I didn't know a soul, and that book was part of a precious group that kept me company my first autumn in Florida. Today it remains one of a small handful of books I've read again and again.

Q:A: Literary influences, I presume. And certainly Harper Lee is one because of her extraordinary novel. When I read her book as a 13-year-old, I first realized the power of the first person in fiction. Until I read To Kill a Mockingbird, I'm not sure I had ever been cognizant of the role voice plays in narrative. Others? John Irving, because he writes fiction that is rich with moral ambiguity, yet never allows a story to drift beyond his characters' reach. And Joyce Carol Oates, because she simply writes and writes and writes -- and never seems to shy away from a risk in perspective or plot or subject matter.

Q: I see that you worked briefly for a New York City advertising agency. What was that experience like?

A: It wasn't unpleasant, and I never minded going to pricey restaurants with clients for lunch. I was an account executive. Of course, I also left New York advertising when I was 25 years old in 1986, so I escaped before anyone had dared to give me any real responsibility. And so while there are certainly novelists in this world who can point to successful and famous (or successful and annoying) ad campaigns on which they'd worked...I'm not one of them.

My favorite moments? Probably the brainstorming sessions for ScotTissue, when a group of intelligent adults would sit around a conference room table and try and figure out how to convince people to use more bathroom tissue.

And the fact is, I was always writing fiction -- even then. I would write from 5am to 7am, and then Monday and Tuesday nights after dinner. I wrote my first novel that way.

Q: How has your life changed since Midwives was picked as Oprah's November Book Club selection? A: I hope my life doesn't change -- at least not the nuts and bolts that comprise my day. I love my life. I live in a century-old Victorian village house in Vermont, and I have a wonderful family. I have breakfast every day with my kindergarten-aged daughter, and I meet her when she gets off the school bus in the afternoon. I have plenty of time to write.

But I love the idea that considerably more people than I ever imagined are now reading my work. I think most novelists are, on some level, exhibitionists: We write to be read. And so I'm thrilled with the increase in readership.

And what I find most interesting -- and more flattering than I can tell you -- is the notion that I'm on this select list with the likes of Toni Morrison, Alice Hoffman, and Wally Lamb. I never in my wildest dreams expected that.

Q: What is the best part of living in an 1898 farmhouse in rural Vermont?

A: I love the clapboard and slate that comprise the house, but more than that I love the community. My wife and I were in our mid-twenties when we arrived here, and we'd never owned a house. We came here straight from a 320-square foot co-op in Brooklyn Heights. We wouldn't have made it through our first winter here were it not for our neighbors. They took us under their wings and taught us what we'd need to get by: Everything from stacking wood so it would dry properly, to making sure we knew the library hours on those short, dark days in January.

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Reading Group Guide

1. By the time Sibyl was of college age, her daughter says, "She had already developed what was then a popular distaste for most traditional or institutional authority" [p. 31]. How does Sibyl continue to maintain an "anti-establishment" stance throughout her life? How does the legacy of the sixties continue to shape the lives, and the self-images, of Sibyl, Rand, and Stephen?

2. "My mother never came quickly or lightly to the decision that one of her patients should go to a hospital" [p. 62]. Why not? What does the act of home birth symbolize for Sibyl, her patients, and the other midwives?

3. Does Anne Austin do the right thing by calling Dr. Hewitt, or does she act out of hostility towards Sibyl? Why doesn't she call Sibyl before talking to the doctor? Should she have done so?

4. Sibyl notes that bankers, lawyers, doctors, and architects choose to have babies at the hospital rather than at home. What point is she trying to make?

5. Tom compares doctors with "pack animals" [p. 95]. Stephen, at the trial, says, "The whole idea that a midwife can do what they do--and do it better--drives some of them crazy, and so they're persecuting my client" [p. 232]. Are these accusations fair, or unfair, to doctors?

6. After Charlotte's death, Tom says to Connie, "So, they're going to have to blame someone" [p. 101]. Do you think this is true? Is Sibyl blamed because people must blame someone? Should someone be held accountable for every death of this sort, or can some be simply attributed to tragic accident?

7. Sibyl carries Pitocin and Ergotrate in case of emergencies during labor. For a lay practitioner to do so is illegal, "but," as Connie states, "every midwife carried them. My mother wasn't unique" [p. 64]. How does this affect midwifery's position as a natural way of delivery? Does the fact that every midwife does so make it all right, or should use of these drugs be limited, as the law prescribes, to licensed doctors and nurses?

8. How alike, basically, are Rand and Sibyl? Has Rand changed more or less than Sibyl from their hippie days? How compatible is he with Sibyl and what she stands for? Do you see their marriage as essentially happy?

9. Do you think that the relationship that develops between Sibyl and Stephen is simply a flirtation, or is it more than a flirtation? What role do Rand's behavior and attitude during the trial play in fostering this relationship?

10. Some of the male and female reporters who cover Sibyl's trial try to avert their eyes from the breasts of the many nursing mothers in the courtroom [p. 213]. Does this reflect to you an essential discomfort with the human body in our culture? Might such a discomfort explain society's disapproval of people like Sibyl Danforth?

11. In the final analysis, do you think that Sibyl behaves irresponsibly during Veil Bedford's birth? Should she, as the prosecution claims, have been more alert to potential weather problems and to Charlotte's health history? Is she precipitate in performing the cesarean section without checking Charlotte's life signs a final time after Asa and Anne returned with the knife, or is it imperative that she rush in order to save the child's life?

12. Do you believe that Connie makes the right choice in shielding her mother from the law? "My mother's conviction would not bring back Charlotte Bedford. It would merely destroy a second woman," Connie reflects [p. 295]. What about the principle involved? Should Sibyl in fact have been allowed to continue to practice as a midwife?

13. "My choice of profession was neither an indictment of my mother's profession nor a slap at her persecutors," says Connie [p. 143]. Is this true? What does Connie mean when she says that "atonement," "reparation," "compensation," and "justice" entered into her decision to become an obstetrician [p. 303]?

14. Did Sibyl's final diary entry [pp. 309-310] change any of the opinions you formed during the course of reading about the trial? If you had any firm ideas about home versus hospital birth, have they been changed by reading this book? Do you think that lay midwives should be allowed to practice? Would you trust yourself to the care of a midwife, or would you go to a hospital for delivery by a doctor?

15. Connie quotes physicians as saying: "But we've lost our collective memory of the fact that although labor is natural, it's dangerous. Let's face it, there was a time when women and babies died all the time in labor. . . . A hospital is like an infant car seat: If something unexpected should occur and there's some kind of collision, we have the tools to pull the baby out of the oven" [p. 18]. The midwives argue: "What's the price of attempting to eliminate chance, or trying to better the odds? A sterile little world with bright hospital lights?" [p. 123]. By which of the two points of view do you find yourself persuaded?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 163 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(65)

4 Star

(65)

3 Star

(19)

2 Star

(7)

1 Star

(7)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 164 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 9, 2010

    Fantastic Book!

    I was an English major when I was in college and have read at least a book a week for years. Midwives was one of the better books I've read in the past year. It is not a unique story in its construction, but it is unique in its topic. Some critics have referred to it as the modern To Kill a Mockingbird. While it certainly is not up to that level (what is?), it is a great book in its own right.

    The characters were immediately involving, even if characterization is not extensive. Bohjalian did a great job of taking me inside the mind of a 14 year old girl witnessing the trial of her mother. There is no doubt that he has a simplistic but elegant prose style that is both involving and enjoyable to read.

    The previous two reviewers really missed the point of the novel, I must say.

    11 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted September 13, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    A jurisprudential take on a midwife mishap

    A courageous story of a Vermont midwife attempting to save a mother and her unborn after intensive labor showed no promise of birth, causing a risky health situation for them both.
    I believe the point of view this story is told from really impacted my enjoyment and eager interest while reading. Many significant, acute details are smudged and hidden throughout the book, but the author skillfully places them in spots I never seemed to forget. This made it important for complete comprehension.
    It truly is a unique plot that adds momentum as its told and allows the reader to see both points of view, which I think is a big part of the writer's intention for the story.
    I very much enjoyed this.

    9 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted July 17, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Excellent Read

    I'm not a fan of home births, so I really didn't expect to love this book or to find any sympathy for the characters in the story. I'm not saying women shouldn't be allowed to have home births, or that they must have a board-certified doctor present during labor; I'm simply saying it's an option I would never have entertained for even a second. With those thoughts in mind, I picked this book up with low expectations and never expected to find the least bit of empathy for the main character. Boy was I surprised! Regardless of one's personal feelings on home births and lay midwives, it would be very difficult to read this book and not be lured into a strong feeling of empathy for the main characters in this book. I found myself turning the pages, almost against my will. I found myself siding with the midwife and hoping that the legal proceedings would find her innocent and set her free to continue her life's calling. I expected a lot of things from this book - mostly negative. What I didn't expect was to truly love it, or to find myself having to pick up my jaw off the floor as I turned the last page. Excellent read!

    7 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 3, 2008

    Definitely a Must Read!!!!!!!

    This novel is a must read which narrates the case of Sybil Danfoth, a midwife by heart, who attends the childbirth of Charlotte Bedford on a cold and stormy winter night at Charlotte's Vermont home. Charlotte is a fragile woman who, although tries very hard to push, cannot make the baby crown. After hours of trying, Charlotte doesn't have any pulse nor heart bit and Sybil, aware that the former has perished, performs a cesarean section with a kitchen knife and accomplishes to save the newborn. Nevertheless, before she does so, she tries to reach both her backup doctor and an ambulance, but she couldn't get through any of them. Sybil also tries to get to her station wagon however, the freezing climate doesn't permit her to start it. Here commences the story. The state prosecutes Sibyl Danforth for 'involuntary manslaughter' that could send her to jail from one to fifteen years and no more midwifery, do to what the prosecution calls extraordinary negligence from the midwife. In addition to this fact, the prosecution suspects Charlotte was not death prior to the cesarean section. So a trial begins and both the prosecution and defense witnesses declare. The narration and prose in general throughout the novel are outstanding and specifically the recounting of the trial is superb. However, when Sibyl is cross questioned she gives out a clue that might be horrendous for her defense...and so it goes. The narration of all the comings and goings is done by Sybil's daughter, Connie, a fourteen year old adolescent, in the first person singular. This fact definitely turns into an excellent narrative prose. I give 5 stars for believable and credible story. I give 5 stars for excellent narration. I give 5 stars since I couldn't stop reading till the end. And, above all, I give 5 stars to the author, Chris Bohjalian since he must have gone through a profound research on trials, midwifery, doctors, and obstetrics, among others.

    7 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 12, 2012

    Excellent Read!

    Midwives, by Bohjalian, is an EXCELLENT read! Treat yourself!

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 19, 2004

    I think that oprah was a little off on this one...

    This was an awful book that made me think twice before I turned each page. I still can't figure out what possesed me to keep reading this book, but I think that it was the small chance that maybe on the next page something interesting would happen. I found this very slow and boring and should have been reading a better book, or watching paint dry because both of these activites would have been more stimulating.

    4 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 21, 2004

    Great Book

    Of all the Oprah's book club books I've read, Midwives is the best. It is definitely a thinking book -- not a good choice for general audiences. While not a feel good book (as is the case with most Oprah books), it does not depress the reader to the point of making it unpleasant to read (as in White Oleander), or shock the reader so violently as to cause apathy for the characters (as in She's Come Undone). Even though parts of the book were unquestionably slow, the heart of the story was engaging enough to justify reading on to the end.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 23, 2012

    Great author

    I'm really coming to like chris b as a writer. This is the third novel of his I've read ( the double bind, and secret of eden) and they've all been great. A little suspense and mystery in each. I have two more on my nook i'll get to soon. Midwives was no disappointment.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 15, 2009

    Very Disappointing

    I picked this up on a whim but when I saw "Engrossing" on the cover, I figured it would be a good read. I realized it took me almost a month and a half to read this book...that's how boring I found the slow moving plot. Some paragraphs seemed endless and most seemed very unimportant. I wanted to find out if the jury agreed with me but was so univolved with the characters that I didn't really care one way or another. The plot, character depth and expansion was non-exsistent for me. I did not feel sympathetic to any of the characters even after 372 pgs with them and considering one was on trial for murder and the other was a teenage girl who could lose her mother, I think that speaks volumes.
    I am very disappointed that the author never fleshed out what could have been a very moving and touching story.
    All in all, I wanted to see the outcome but I was just not that involved with the characters.

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 13, 2009

    generic

    This book was not original. Although the topic is dramatic, I found the book to be lacking in any real depth. Perhaps because it is being told from the point of view of a young teen it seemed too generic. Had the story been told from the point of view of a woman who had given birth or even the midwife there may have been more emotional tension in the book. This book left me unsatisfied.

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 25, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    engrossing...

    Midwives is an engrossing, well written story. It follows the trial of Sybil Danforth, a midwife accused of involuntary manslaughter, after one of her patients dies. The book is told from the perspective of Sybil's 14 year old daughter. The death in question occurs in Vermont in March amid an ice storm. Sybil and her patient are trapped at the house with no option of getting to a hospital when things turn bad. The patient dies and Sybil performs an (illegal) emergency C-section to save the baby. The baby lives but Sybil is accused of performing the C-section on a living woman, resulting in the woman's death. Midwives is a page turner where we see the main characters on a roller coaster ride of emotions. I couldn't wait to get to the end to see what the verdict was and how that verdict would effect the Danforth family and everyone else involved.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 24, 2008

    soon to be midwife

    i selected this book to read from a book list given to me for my college reading class. i have plans to become a nurse midwife when i finish my schooling. i found this book exciting and heart wrenching at times it is a great read if for nothing elce to learn about how dramatic it can be for a child to enter this world and also to gain knowledge of the process of a criminal trial. i found this book hard to put down and when i was not reading i was going over the story line making my own conclusions and questions

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 1, 2005

    what is a midwife?

    I have just finished reading 'Midwives'.This book is very scary! I am a nurse midwife who trained in England in the early 70's. I came to America in 1977, went to live in New Hampshire and almost got involved with the lay midwives up there. I backed out as I was only too well aware of the risks of home deliveries, especially in an area where hospitals were few and far between. My only dissappointments with the book were that Mr.Bohjalian did not mention the meaning of the word 'midwife' which is 'with women', and I also did not like the words 'catching babies' - that infers a ball of some kind that is tossed into the air and has to be caught. Delivering a baby is a hands-on skill that assists the emergence of the baby.But it was a darned good read, and I am already looking for more books by the same author.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 15, 2003

    Awesome

    Midwives was a great read. Not only was it superbly suspenseful, but I learned a great deal about midwifery and what happens in a courtroom. I also enjoyed the narrator, Connie. She observed what was going on around her with the eyes of an adolescent, but told the story with the heart and mind of a wise adult. Both of these perspectives made this book an awesome read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 14, 2002

    Why I didn't like this book

    Why I didn¿t like this book, David 16, March 13, 2002 I didn¿t really like this book because, it was very boring and it didn¿t keep me interested long. It seemed like it dragged on. It was very descriptive in parts and other parts it wasn¿t. I guess though I am a guy and things like this don¿t really interest me, but I also understand that this is part of life. It just did not grab my attention like some other books do.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 20, 2014

    Good read

    Something you don't see a lot. Loved the story and the. Characters.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 24, 2013

    Good Read.

    Too close for comfort. Can this happen now!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 8, 2013

    Excellent!

    For those of us who grew up in the "hippy generation," we can really relate to the setting and characters in this novel. Sometimes it is difficult to believe that the author is a man - the insights are so powerful! This is a story not to be forgotten!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 2, 2012

    Fabulous book in the 14 year old girls first person

    I loved this book! The narrator is the daughter of a midwife accused of murder. Most of the book is written from her 13-14 year old point of view. It was written so well, had loads of forays into the future and back to the past. Good character development and enough details to set the scene, feel like you are there, but not too much to lose interest. I loved the characters and the family interactions in the book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 21, 2013

    Enjoyed!

    Read this book years ago after seeing it as an Oprah reading list book.

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