I received a complimentary copy of Once a Midwife for review. All opinions in this post, however, are my own.
The latest installment in Patricia Harman’s Hope River series, Once a Midwife takes up the story of Hope River’s midwife, Patience, against the backdrop of World War II. Harman fans who have been waiting for a new entry in the series will appreciate the chance to reacquaint themselves with Patience and with Hope River, although this book will also read well as a standalone.
More than midwifery
Fans of midwifery novels, though, should be aware that Once a Midwife soon moves away from that focus to narrow in much more heavily on the relationship between Patience and her husband Daniel, as they wrestle with his opposition to the war, refusal to register, and eventual imprisonment. While this provides much food for thought (and for book groups), the political discussions that dominate the book do make it a bit more difficult for us as readers to get pulled into the story, as it veers between questions of the war, racial equality, midwifery, daily life in wartime small town America, and more.
Where she does take more time to flesh out the midwifery stories and relationships between women, Harman’s writing really shines, and I would have liked to see more of that in this book. Once a Midwife really is the quintessential book club pick, however, and I duly found a list of reading group discussion questions in the back of my copy (along with a Q&A and some historical photographs). It would make a great pick for any book club.
Overall an enjoyable read
Despite its flaws, Once a Midwife is overall an enjoyable read — and, despite the differences in time period and background, Patience’s struggles resonate just as well today. As she writes: One thing I’ve learned… strength grows when you feel you can’t go on, but you keep going on. Sometimes you don’t have a choice.”
- See also my earlier review of Patricia Harman’s The Runaway Midwife.
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