The Bookworm Review: The Midwife of Hope River

Midwife of Hope River copyc.2012, William Morrow                     $14.99 / $16.99 Canada                       400 pages

By Terri Schlichenmeyer

Was the remedy better than the illness?

You were never sure when you were a kid and Grandma was around. No doubt about it, the home remedies she employed to make sure you didn’t die, sure made you wish you did. She had a way with kerosene, poultices, castor oil, whiskey, and chicken parts, and the child who coughed in her presence learned to regret it.

Dangerous, yes, in retrospect. Mysterious and miraculous, too, but in the new novel “The Midwife of Hope River” by Patricia Harman, miracles come in squalling packages.

Patience Murphy never set out to be a midwife.

It was accidental, perhaps, but maybe Mrs. Kelly sensed that Patience would be good at it. She could read and write, both essential. She was gentle. She’d been a wet nurse once, too. Mrs. Kelly couldn’t be faulted for thinking that she knew something about childbirth, but Patience only knew about her own baby, long dead by then.

But she knew plenty now. She knew because Mrs. Kelly, before she died, made sure of it.

Ahh, that was so long ago. It was before Elizabeth Snyder became “Patience Murphy,” before she was widowed during an IWW union uprising. It was before the stock market crashed and everybody lost money, jobs, and homes. It was before Patience fled to West Virginia , one step ahead of the law.

At thirty-six years old, she didn’t want to start over but it seemed like starting over was what she’d done all her life, and Liberty , West Virginia wasn’t a bad place for it. She’d inherited a house outside of town, where it was peaceful. She made friends and had even gained a roommate, however reluctantly. People were beginning to trust her and she’d eased more than just a few babies into the world. She even stretched her mind a bit by helping her neighbor, a veterinarian, and by lending a hand when the King Camp coal mine flooded.

Yes, Liberty would be a good place to live – and to hide. Patience could help heal a lot of families. If only she could heal her own heart…

Don’t know nuthin’ about birthing no babies?  Don’t worry – you don’t have to. Just grab this luscious, beautiful novel and don’t push.

Author and former midwife Patricia Harman delivers powerful authenticity in this story; you can almost hear the newborns’ cries and smell the mountain grasses. That, along with the Depression-era historical touches she added, make this book meaningful.

Its velvety prose makes it a must-read.

In Harman’s eyes, there’s beauty in poverty. Hate results in ultimate good and making-do makes contentment. With this story, “…thinking about death, thinking about birth and all the beautiful mess in the middle” seems like the most naturally soul-calming thing you could ever do, and I loved it.

So put away your beach reads. Box up the book pile next to the bed and replace it with this exquisite novel. If you’re weary of the same old reading fluff, “The Midwife of Hope River” is the perfect remedy.

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. Terri has been reading since she was 3 years old and she never goes anywhere without a book. She lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 12,000 books. For more information, visit

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