Review

The Midwife of Hope River: A Novel of an American Midwife

by Patricia Harman

Because she is wanted in two states for the murder of her husband, 36-year-old Elizabeth Snyder, now Patience Murphy, lives in the hills of West Virginia and makes her living as a midwife. Life is not simple when you are wanted for murder. As a respectable midwife, her life assumes a kind of anonymity, and she is content in a strange kind of way.

Patience’s life is fraught with memories --- memories of her life as a little girl living in Deerfield, Illinois; memories of the death of her parents and her eventual journey into an orphanage; memories of her beautiful first love and the pregnancy that followed; and memories of his unexpected death followed by the loss of her baby. Sometimes it’s impossible to go back, to remember the ache and the sorrow of those times. But even more memories are there, and they are buried deep in the stone of her heart.

"There is so much history and wonderful detail packed into this little book that it’s simply amazing.... If you enjoy the writings of Sandra Dallas and/or Jennifer Donnelly, you will savor Harman’s skilled storytelling."

Living alone in the house left to her by the wonderful Sophie Kelly, Patience pushes herself on by helping other young women bring life into the world. Sophie took her in when she had no place to go, and under her training, she learns the skills of midwifery. She loves this part of her life, the beautiful moments of birth and the satisfaction of helping women. It’s not easy --- it’s exhausting and she seldom gets any money for her efforts --- but with a dozen eggs and a bag of flour, she keeps going.

After the loss of Sophie, Patience finds herself “…plodding along, careful not to step in the puddles of my own tears.” But now she is needed, wanted and useful. Life is not bound to stay the same; contentment is a fleeting moment in the 1930s and the harsh life around Hope River.Despite the threats that continue to surround her, she continues her midwife practice --- delivering babies and helping the women under her care. Her life is peopled with wonderful personalities, like the old midwife Mrs. Potts; the vet down the road, Daniel Hester; the Reverend Miller and his wife; and countless men and women who owe their lives to her abilities. Still, there are the shadows of the past that she cannot escape.

When the daughter of Mary Proudfoot, a black servant for the MacIntosh family, comes to live with her, a strong bond is formed. Bitsy becomes a great friend and, despite her young years, begins to train with Patience. The path to this situation has been a series of tragedies --- a battered wife, a suicide, Mary’s death, and a trail of unanswered questions, which brings the sheriff to her door. The appearance of the Ku Klux Klan and the talk that living with the black girl “ain’t right” add to the mounting tensions. Can Patience’s secrets stay with her? Her life is beginning to unravel, a thread at a time.

There is so much history and wonderful detail packed into this little book that it’s simply amazing. The life of Patience proves to be a tribute to these courageous women who have helped so many bring life into this world. Author Patricia Harman, herself a midwife for many years, knows this territory well and, with skill and sensitivity, writes a story every woman should read. If you enjoy the writings of Sandra Dallas and/or Jennifer Donnelly, you will savor Harman’s skilled storytelling. This is a book I will be recommending to many friends, and after you read it, so will you.

Reviewed by Sally M. Tibbetts on September 14, 2012

The Midwife of Hope River: A Novel of an American Midwife
by Patricia Harman

  • Publication Date: August 28, 2012
  • Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
  • ISBN-10: 0062198890
  • ISBN-13: 9780062198891