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The Birth House by Ami McKay
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The Birth House (original 2006; edition 2007)

by Ami McKay

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1,460925,128 (3.96)217
Member:sharon370
Title:The Birth House
Authors:Ami McKay
Info:Vintage Canada (2007), Paperback, 408 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****
Tags:None

Work details

The Birth House by Ami McKay (2006)

Recently added bykrystannerissa, brocade, KellyAndris, ElizabethFlygare, private library, SHCLC, etbm2003
  1. 00
    The Midwife of Hope River: A Novel of an American Midwife by Patricia Harman (vancouverdeb)
    vancouverdeb: Both books are about midwifery in the early 1920's ,1930's. Both also tackles social issues.
  2. 00
    Baby Catcher: Chronicles of a Modern Midwife by Peggy Vincent (infiniteletters)
  3. 00
    Sex Wars: A Novel of Gilded Age New York by Marge Piercy (tangledthread)
    tangledthread: also deals with the historical issues of gender politics.
  4. 02
    Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman (JolieLouise)
    JolieLouise: Has a similar "feel" to The Birth House. The difference being that the "remedies" used in The Birth House are more passed down folklore/wisdom whereas the "remedies, etc..." in Practical Magic are more magic/witchcraft. Both books have females as the main characters and the females have the power of healing/magic . . .… (more)
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» See also 217 mentions

English (91)  Lithuanian (1)  All languages (92)
Showing 1-5 of 91 (next | show all)
Set mostly during WWI in the little town in Nova Scotia, Dora is the apprentice to the local midwife, Miss B. When Miss B passes away, Dora inherits her practice and the ill will of a physician in a nearby town who believes that his hospital, twilight sleep and exact science (coupled with a costly insurance policy that pays for his services) is the best way for the women of the tiny town. Dora eventually has to move away for a while, when she's accused of killing a local man's wife. Turns out the it was his beating that killed the wife, not Dora's medicine at all. Eventually Dora moves back to town, making her old home into "The Birth House", open for free to any woman for any reason. ( )
  nancynova | Aug 15, 2014 |
I quite liked this book. It reminded me of Beth Gutcheon's work a bit. It might have been the historical part, it might have been the common northeastern coastal setting, it might have been the feminine-centered plot. Really a 4-and-a-half star book. ( )
  cat-ballou | Jan 22, 2014 |
I quite liked this book. It reminded me of Beth Gutcheon's work a bit. It might have been the historical part, it might have been the common northeastern coastal setting, it might have been the feminine-centered plot. Really a 4-and-a-half star book. ( )
  cat-ballou | Jan 22, 2014 |
The narrator of this story is Dora Rare, the only female child born into the Rare family in five generations. She is born in the middle of six boys. The setting for the novel is Scott's Bay, Nova Scotia at the beginning of WWI.

Her father, uncles, and brothers are shipwrights in an era where wooden schooners are fast being replaced by modern steel shipbuilding. Farming is also a mainstay of life in this hardscrabble country. Dora is not a beauty. But she loves to read, a practice that her father discourages in the belief that reading will make her unfit for marriage. As the eligible male population is bled off to the war in Europe, Dora's mother engineers an apprenticeship to the local Acadian eccentric and midwife, Miss Marie Babineau.

Through this vehicle of midwifery, various aspects of women's issues and control over their bodies are explored. Ancient Miss Babineau teaches 17 year old Dora the use of herbs and lore to help women with infertility, pregnancy, labor and birth, unwanted pregnancies, and even sexual satisfaction. Dora quickly learns that suffering and loss are a part of living.

Meanwhile unscrupulous, ambitious Dr. Gilbert Thomas enters the community with his modern "scientific" approach to obstetrics. He has little respect or regard for women and their bodies beyond the money he can make from prepaid insurance plans for delivering their babies at a far away hospital, rather than in their homes which was the norm for the community. The transportation and expense were beyond what most families could afford, but the doctor appeals to the vanity of the husbands. In additon he sets out to disparage Miss Babineau and exploit Dora's youth.

At this point, a marriage of convenience is put forth for Dora that her parents make it impossible for her to refuse. The stipulation is that she must give up her practice of midwifery.

This story of women's issues unfolds against the backdrop of the war in Europe, the influenza epidemic of 1918, the introduction of allopathic medicine to rural Canada, the Halifax explosion, and the Great Molasses Flood of Boston in 1919.

The author does a great job of weaving the story together. I'm not sure that the "extras" of folkloric remedies and the recipe for groaing cake add much to the book, though. ( )
  tangledthread | Sep 8, 2013 |
Librarything said that I probably won't like it. This time it was so wrong.

Although, I love this book, I did find the first half of the book better than the last half, but at the same time, I liked the way it ended. There wasn't the fairy tale ending I thought it would have.

It story moved quickly, and kept my interest throughout. An amazing read. ( )
  callmejacx | Aug 27, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 91 (next | show all)
As with Water for Elephants, this book sat on my 'to-read' list way too long. After finally picking it up from the library, I almost returned it without reading because it just didn't appeal to me. However, I am so happy that I opted to read rather than return.

I loved how the author, Ami McKay, wrote this story. It amazes me to think that the story actually takes place in the early 1900's and during WWI. Other than when the story actually mentioned the war or the fact that there wasn't electricity, you wouldn't have known that it wasn't a modern day story.

Also, I really enjoyed reading about midwifery. I chose to have a 'modern' birth when I had my son (ie. hospital with doctors) but have heard of so many wonderful stories of the 'midwife experience'. By the end of The Birth House, midwifes were becoming extinct and doctors becoming the way of the world... nowadays, it seems as if things are moving back in the other direction as more and more people chose to use a midwife over a doctor for their birthing experience. If only the people of Scots Bay knew this, it would have saved so much trouble

Overall, The Birth House was a wonderful debut novel by a Canadian author. It is a must-read for anyone who enjoys a story about a mother struggle to choose between what everyone says is right and what she feels is right in her heart
 
McKay sets The Birth House against the historical backdrop of war, influenza, the Halifax Explosion, and the Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919. Issues of women’s rights and freedoms are never far from the novel’s surface. Gradually Dora becomes the guardian of age-old female knowledge under threat from modern technology. She is forced into the fray when Dr. Gilbert Thomas, an ambitious, unscrupulous obstetrician, arrives in Scots Bay with promises of safe, painless childbirth. Young though she is, Dora knows that pain and danger are inseparable from life. With the staunch support of the Occasional Knitters Society, she fights Thomas’s hostile takeover. He counters with charges of malpractice, precipitating her flight to Boston....Intelligent, quirky, passionate, and funny, it deserves a wide readership and a long shelf life.

 
The miracle of birth and the struggle to live a good life; the miracle of a good life and the struggle to be born -- these are just a few of the themes explored in Ami McKay's poignant debut novel, The Birth House.

The novel is set in a small Nova Scotia community during a period of great change: in Europe, the First World War is raging. In North America advances in medicine and social organization are radically altering they way people live. It's an era charged with tumult, destruction and social revolution.
A national bestseller, The Birth House won the Ontario Library Association's 2007 Evergreen Award and was named one of the best books of the decade by Chapters Indigo
 
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Epigraph
Dedication
For my husband, Ian, My heart, my love, my home
First words
My house stands at the edge of the earth.
Quotations
A rumour is about as hard to unspread as butter.
No matter what you do, someone always knew you would.

Throw an onion after a bride and you'll throw away her tears.
The most horrible curse you can put on a woman is to kiss her on the cheeks and tells her that things couldn't get any worse. The minute you say it, they surely does.
Our little village, perched on the crook of God's finger, has always been ruled by storm and season.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0061135879, Paperback)

An arresting portrait of the struggles that women faced for control of their own bodies, The Birth House is the story of Dora Rare—the first daughter in five generations of Rares.

As apprentice to the outspoken Acadian midwife Miss Babineau, Dora learns to assist the women of an isolated Nova Scotian village through infertility, difficult labors, breech births, unwanted pregnancies, and unfulfilling sex lives. During the turbulent World War I era, uncertainty and upheaval accompany the arrival of a brash new medical doctor and his promises of progress and fast, painless childbirth. In a clash between tradition and science, Dora finds herself fighting to protect the rights of women as well as the wisdom that has been put into her care.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:22:54 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

The first daughter in five generations of her Nova Scotia family, Dora Rare becomes an apprentice to a gifted midwife and storyteller before their home is threatened by the arrival of a brash medical doctor who promises sterile and painless births.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 3 descriptions

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Ami McKay is a LibraryThing Author, an author who lists their personal library on LibraryThing.

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