by Chris Bohjalian


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A contemporary classic that has sold more than two million copies and was a selection of Oprah's original Book Club, Midwives is a compulsively readable novel that explores questions of human responsibility that are as fundamental to our society now as they were when the book was first published twenty years ago. 
On an icy winter night in an isolated house in rural Vermont, a seasoned midwife named Sibyl Danforth takes desperate measures to save a baby’s life. She performs an emergency cesarean section on a mother she believes has died of stroke. But what if—as Sibyl's assistant later charges—the patient wasn't already dead?   The ensuing trial bears the earmarks of a witch hunt, forcing Sibyl to face the antagonism of the law, the hostility of traditional doctors, and the accusations of her own conscience. Exploring the complex and emotional decisions surrounding childbirth, Midwives engages, moves, and transfixes us as only the very best novels ever do.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780375706776
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 11/28/1998
Series: Oprah's Book Club Series
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 111,664
Product dimensions: 7.98(w) x 5.12(h) x 0.84(d)

About the Author

CHRIS BOHJALIAN is the author of twenty books, including The Guest Room; Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands; The Sandcastle Girls; Skeletons at the Feast; The Double Bind; and Midwives which was a number one New York Times bestseller and a selection of Oprah's Book Club. Chris's work has been translated into more than thirty languages, and three novels have become movies (Secrets of Eden, Midwives, and Past the Bleachers). Chris lives in Vermont and can be found at www.chrisbohjalian.com or on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Litsy, and Goodreads.


Lincoln, Vermont

Date of Birth:

August 12, 1961

Place of Birth:

White Plains, New York


Amherst College

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.

Table of Contents

Reading Group Guide

The questions, discussion topics, author biography, and suggestions for further reading that follow are designed to enhance your group's reading of Chris Bohjalian's Midwives.  We hope they will give you a number of new angles from which to consider this enthralling and provocative novel, a gripping combination of courtroom thriller, domestic drama, and novel of ideas that adds up to a lyrical and suspenseful work of art.

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?


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.


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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Midwives 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 205 reviews.
Morning-Star More than 1 year ago
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.
JHiggy23 More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
CathieArms More than 1 year ago
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!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Midwives, by Bohjalian, is an EXCELLENT read! Treat yourself!
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
songcatchers More than 1 year ago
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.
levly More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
DubaiReader on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Too much court room action.I enjoyed the central precept of this book - what if a midwife were to perform a ceasarian on a mother, thinking her dead at the time, but then discover that there may be some doubt about this fact? What I did not enjoy was the fact that most of the action seemed to take place in the court room, turning the book into more of a who-done-it.It is 1981 and Sybil, an experienced midwife, finds herslf having to make a quick decision to save the life of an unborn infant. Her instincts tell her that the mother should be transferred immediately to hospital, but a storm has set in and the freezing rain makes it impossible to travel. At the same time, the phone lines are down and she must deal with the situation with just the help of her inexperienced trainee assistant, Anne.After the event, Anne claims that she saw evidence that the mother was still alive at the time of the incision and as a result, Sybil and her family are thrust into an horrendous court case to defend her from a charge of manslaughter.Bohajalian has created some great characters, particulary Sibyl Danforth, the midwife, and her fourteen year old daughter, who narrates the story as a midwife, several years later.The narrative was set at about the time that pressure became greater on mothers to give birth in hospital, with doctors in attendance for emergencies, and events such as this added to the arguments against home births.I listened to the abridged audiobook, perhaps the full length version was less court based, but for the copy I had, only three and a half stars.
jewelryladypam on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I was enthralled with one of Chris Bohjalian's other novels entitled "The Double Bind" (which I also gave 5 stars) that I just had to read another one by him. And this one did not disappoint! What a novel - it had it all: strong characterization, steady & suspenseful plot, vivid setting, thought provoking questions of a moral/ethical nature and even a slight little twist at the end . . . all in one extremely well-written package. I couldn't put it down and I will be back to read another of Bohjalian's very soon. I highly recommend this work!
angela.vaughn on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I really liked this book. It started to get a little long and drawn out right before the trail started, but it was filled with on action, but feelings, so that time was spent letting you really get to know each of the characters on a personal note. The trail was what really got my attention, and the fact that it seemed to go so fast. I do see the midwife profession in a different light now that I have read the book and it has sparked some discussion in my house between my daughter and I about the stigma placed on those choices a woman has when it comes to delivering and even feeding their young.
justablondemoment on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A story of a midwife who is accused of killing a client through negligence. This story is told thru the eyes of her daughter. I'm not sure how I feel about this book. I didn't love it but, I didn't hate it. It bored me in places and in others it made me read as fast as I could to get to the next page. Would I read it again...no. But I'm not sorry I read it. Just was expecting something to make me go WOW from all the other reviews I had read. Just didn't give me that feeling.I chose to add this to my memoirs collection as it is told by the daughter in this fashion with journal entries made from the mother, however, it is fictional.
msf59 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
One nightmarish night in New England, during a hellish ice storm, a midwife is forced to perform an emergency Caesarean on a young woman, who had suddenly died. But what if the woman wasn¿t dead and the midwife had inadvertently murdered her? That becomes the frightening question and the main plot point in this engaging story, all told through the eyes of the midwife¿s fourteen year old daughter.In a less capable author, this could be a melodramatic mess but Bohjalian handles it with a simple and clear approach. Recommended.
juniperSun on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
As a mother of 2 (out of 3) born-at-home children, I really wanted to like this book. As a friend of women who are midwives, I know how important it is for the story of legal persecution of midwives to be told. However, Bohjalian's placing the teen-aged daughter as the main protagonist creates a distance between the reader and the conflict--especially since this is told as a recollection by the daughter at an older age. I don't think Bohjalian approves of midwives. They are all portrayed as peasant-skirted hippies and strident feminists. I wish someone would write a good tale valueing midwives, because it deserves to be written
kmaziarz on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It was a dark and stormy night when Sibyl Danforth, experienced midwife, sent her assistant for a kitchen knife. The phone lines were down, the roads made completely impassable by ice, and the birth was an unexpectedly long and difficult one, resulting in the death of the mother despite all of Sibyl¿s efforts to save her. Frantically trying to save the life of the infant, she sent her assistant and the father to find the sharpest knife in the house, and performed an emergency Caesarian section on the dead woman, managing to bring her son into the world alive and screaming.As though the death of the laboring mother weren¿t tragedy enough, the real horror begins the next day: Sibyl¿s assistant believes that the mother was alive when the surgery was performed, meaning the real cause of death was Sibyl¿s kitchen knife. Over the weeks and months that follow, the trial drags Sibyl; her teenage daughter Connie; and her husband through waves of hope and despair. It becomes clear that this trial, as devastating as it is to Sibyl and her family, is not really or solely about Sibyl Danforth¿it is a battle of wills between the ancient craft of midwifery and the modern practice of obstetrics which would like to see midwifery outlawed.Narrated by Sibyl¿s now-adult daughter Connie (herself now an obstetrician who works with midwives), the novel pieces together the events leading up to and following the trial as Connie attempts to make sense of the events which proved most formative in her young life.
SmithSJ01 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Too long winded and poor narrative. It just kept going on and on. The first third was fabulous and I was so pleased I picked it up then once the trial started I simply lost interest. Skipped to the last two chapters to find out the ending.
jtho on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Interesting story that held my attention, though the prose was mid-level and the twists and turns all very predictable. I think it's important to note (bc the jacket description doesn't give this impression) that this is actually a courtroom drama. The incident that results in the court battle is over and done with within the first 1/5 of the book, and then much of the rest is gathering evidence and then the court scenes. Also, I can't believe this was written by a man - when I finished the book and closed it and saw his name on the cover (which I had known already but not really thought about), I had a moment of shock. Very convincing feminine voices.
Waianuhea on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Wonderful book. Raises some really good ethical questions - we had an awesome discussion in my book group! The narrator was very natural and believable. Touching book, well worth the read.
marynkids42 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Chris finds topics to write about that are controversial and he depicts the "locals" as they are. I had a hard time putting this book down because of the mixture of Vermont humor and Chris' fine way of ending each chapter. This is a must read.
macktan894 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I've read this book a couple of times...and I bought it before Oprah discovered it. I was visiting Seattle and spotted it on a shelf in a local bookstore. I've always prided myself on finding the good reads first.This book is about so many things, not just the trial of a midwife who possibly botched a delivery. It's about changing times--the battle for patients and their dollars as depicted in Sybil Danforth's losing struggle to deliver babies even though she's not a doctor, affiliated with a hospital, or eligible for malpractice insurance. Her career is an affront to obstreticians who've trained expensively to do what she does cheaply and better. The world is different now. People sue, attorneys rush to find the suits in order to make money...33 & 1/3rd percent. It's about how honesty can mean very little in our judicial system. It's about the fading strength of communities and bonds between people. This is a riveting story about an unfortunate series of events that occurred in a snow and ice storm one night, changing the lives and viewpoints of many people in not just a family but a community. Bojalian opens this novel with a gripping description of midwife Sybil's attempt to deliver a baby that will have you hooked to this story until the end. He brilliantly assigns point of view to Sybil's 13 year old daughter who, like most precocious teens, sees and senses everything important and gives you, the reader, just the right amount of distance to put everything in perspective. Dramatic story, beautifully written.