Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Review: "The Midwife of Hope River" by Patricia Harman

Title: The Midwife of Hope River
Patricia Harman
William Morrow
Date Published:
August 28, 2012

How I Heard About It: As one of the lucky reviewers for TLC Book Tours, I perused their list of upcoming titles and this one really jumped out at me.  People have been saying amazing things about Harman's latest novel on GoodReads, and for good reason, it turns out.

Two Sentence Summary:  Set in Appalachia (one of my favorite places to read about) at the dawn of the Great Depression (one of my favorite time periods to read about), the novel details Patience Murphy's struggles as a single, 36 year old midwife living alone in the heart of mining country.  Working incessantly to save impoverished mothers that can't afford proper medical care, Patience navigates disaster on an immense spectrum: personal loss, political persecution, and the every day despair of crumbling mountain villages.

Things I Think: Harman's novel encapsulates so many things that fascinate me, so it's kind of a no-brainer that I loved every minute.  In addition to the setting (Appalachia is near and dear to my heart), the protagonist is an absolute feminist powerhouse. 

At first, we see Patience as a turn-of-the century pioneer: holding down her isolated cabin alone, caring for livestock, trekking miles by herself in the middle of the night to prevent medical disasters in backwoods shacks.  All of this is done with a fierce determination, with a heavy dose of patience and gentleness.  But as the novel progresses, Patience's mind starts to wander to her more urban past, which we learn is incredibly colorful and no less harrowing.  An orphan-turned-showgirl-turned-activist, she slowly allows the reader access to her personal pain, the loss of almost all of her loved ones.  A constant undercurrent of worry is present, and thanks to Harman's brilliant pacing I was flipping pages madly, trying to figure out why Patience had isolated herself and from what she was trying to escape.

Author Patricia Harman
No small amount of research went into this book. The political details of the era are sharp, setting a narrative climate of conflict and upheaval. Most fascinating to me were recountings of various mining disasters, particularly in West Virgina.  As someone who has aggressively studied and protested more recent mountain top removal practices in that area, I found the historical lineage really fascinating and was prompted to go out and do more research on my own.  This, for me, is an ultimate compliment to bestow.

In addition to the blog tour (check out all the stops here), Patricia will be doing a physical tour. Those of you on the other side of the country can totally go say hi.


Heather J. @ TLC Book Tours said...

I totally agree - when a book makes me go out and learn more, then that is a great book!

Thanks for being on the tour.

trish said...

"female powerhouse"

AWESOME! :) Glad you liked it as much as I did!