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Friday, January 29, 2016

Book Review: Call the Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times by Jennifer Worth

I caught up on the PBS TV show this past fall and I fell in love! The 1950s in England was very different from the 1950s in America: they are in a recession, even ten years after the war there are bomb sites everywhere, and even the fashion looks like the 1940s, mostly due to no one having money.

Jenny became a nurse and then a midwife and as a midwife she lived and worked in Nonnatus House, a nunnery, in a working-class neighborhood of London. There she encountered a real variety of issues and problems, and also a lot of dear people and friendly folks. I wish the book had had more of a through-thread of narrative but instead it reads like a series of memories or essays. In the end, there's no great revelation or transformation, as Jenny doesn't seem to have changed much over the course of the book. But then, she's also not so much the main character as she is just the narrator. Some of the stories, such as the longest one about the young prostitute Mary, she's really not in at all. Others where she is involved, such as the two stories about Conchita, she's still only an ancillary character. We really learn nearly nothing about Jenny. But it's okay as she works well as a vessel for telling these others' tales. I just wish they'd been more organized and more of an arc. Perhaps the arc really is through the course of all three memoirs, and more of her personality is revealed in the subsequent books. But this book was lovely. She has a straightforward and pleasant storytelling style, and you really get to know the people of Poplar and the docks. Even though there are bomb craters and young girls roped into prostitution and physical abuse, the book is infused with an optimism and hope that bleeds through in every scene. Even the most bleak situations are never bleak. It's a pleasant and diverting read that thrusts you back in time and gives a realistic view of what life was like for a midwife in this era.

I bought this book at Park Road Books, my local independent bookstore.

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